National Science Foundation Grant Will Enhance Computer Network at Trinity College

Information Technology Infrastructure Upgrades Increase Scientific Computing Capabilities

​Hartford, Connecticut, April 19, 2016 – A National Science Foundation grant of $340,657 will fund the expansion and enhanced inter-connection of Trinity College’s computer network for scientific research and computing purposes. The two-year grant will be used to upgrade information technology infrastructure in the Life Sciences Center, the Clement Chemistry Building, and the Roy Nutt Mathematics, Engineering & Computer Science Center, allowing for the increased flow of big data research sets at Trinity. The enhancements to the College’s network will expand and improve resources for faculty and students performing scientific research.

Associate Professor of Biology Scott Smedley; Bryan Adams, director of systems and networking; and Frederick Kass, director of networking and infrastructure services.
The project, titled “Trinity College Next Generation Science Network and DMZ,” is funded by the NSF Campus Cyberinfrastructure Data, Networking, and Innovation Program. The grant was awarded to Trinity in February 2016 and will be led by principal investigators Frederick Kass, director of networking and infrastructure services, Bryan Adams, director of systems and networking, and Associate Professor of Biology Scott Smedley.

The improvements made possible by this grant will bring scientific computing capabilities at Trinity to a level often found at larger research universities. “This grant is really about elevating the ability to do data-intensive research at a liberal arts college,” Kass said. “It’s a great opportunity that the NSF has made available to smaller institutions.”

The infrastructure upgrades will take place largely behind the scenes, such as in server rooms and in the wiring behind walls. “This will upgrade the connections within buildings on campus, between buildings on campus, and with the Internet2 or Connecticut Education Network community,” Kass said. Work during the first year of the two-year grant will mainly involve research and planning, he said.

“People here won’t see much, but the hope is that people elsewhere will see more, because our connectivity from here to the research world at large will be improved greatly,” Adams said. “We can start interacting more with other institutions, allowing access to the tools that will accelerate the great science already being done here.”

Smedley said certain sciences courses at Trinity rely on manipulating large electronic data sets, which can occasionally overwhelm the existing network. “One of our goals as faculty is to train our undergrads who have interest in science to be very competent scientists, and we involve them in projects that capture large amounts of data,” he said. “As you work with those files, collaborate and exchange those files, there are challenges that come about. There are lots of files on these servers, and it takes lots of time for files to transfer.”

One project in particular that will benefit from the improvements is Smedley’s “Wildlife CSI (Compost Scene Investigation).” In this program, developed with colleagues in Trinity’s Information Technology Services, biology students help to monitor compost piles remotely. Digital cameras and high-capacity memory cards gather thousands of images in the course of a month. “It exceeds our capacity to be able to sit down and go through them and be able to see what critters are coming in to the compost pile,” Smedley said. “So we have developed an online database which allows participants who have curiosity about the natural world to contribute to the image categorizations. We serve up our images to these folks, and we involve teams of students here at Trinity.” Smedley said that faculty and students will see increased network speed when the upgrades are complete.

The many other Trinity research projects that will make use of the connection enhancements include Professor of Computer Science Ralph Morelli’s Mobile CSP application-development program and Brownell Professor of Philosophy Dan Lloyd’s work with fMRI imaging, both of which use large files.

Smedley said that he is exploring teaching joint courses with colleagues at other institutions by conducting parallel experiments at two different locations, using video conferencing for the seminars, and exchanging electronic data sets.

The grant project also includes improved access to the Science DMZ, which is a faster way for researchers to reach each other at different Internet2 institutions. “The Science DMZ is a nexus for science faculty to reach other science faculty, accelerating inter-institutional, cross-disciplinary interaction, which we all believe is the most fertile place to search for new insights,” Adams said.

Kass added that the project will also make use of a performance monitoring tool, PerfSONAR, which Internet2 and NSF sponsored to ensure that connections are operating at peak speeds. This grant will also allow researchers and instructors access to Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) services upon request.