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Nevada's Environmental Science
Moves into the Fast Lane
To the chagrin of many environmental scientists, their discipline has often been considered a "soft" science, thought to lack the reams of data or the complex mathematics that we associate with, say, physics. The truth is, some of the hottest issues in environmental science, such as the movement of contamination through groundwater, or global climate change, require highly sophisticated computing and state of the art technology.
This type of research is a particular strength at three research institutions in Nevada, where a recent AAAS review team was dispatched to help make some critical decisions about how to implement advanced computing facilities for environmental science.
"The development of advanced computing facilities is a key to the future of research in Nevada and, ultimately, to the state's economic future," said Al Teich, Director of Science and Policy Programs at AAAS, and leader of the review team.
While Nevada researchers and administrators were generally in agreement about the need for an advanced new computing system, their opinions diverged significantly on how to distribute the facilities among the three research institutions, the University of Nevada at Reno, the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, and the Desert Research Institute. A key issue was the role of the National Supercomputer Center for Energy and the Environment, stationed at the Las Vegas campus, and whether to center the resources there, or to spread them among all the campuses.
To help resolve the issue, the University and Community College System of Nevada turned to Teich and his colleagues at AAAS, to put together a team of experts. The review team spent four days in April and May interviewing faculty and administrators in the university system.
Since the mid-1990s, the AAAS Research Competitiveness Program, part of the Science and Policy Directorate, has been assisting universities and other institutions in planning, reviewing or evaluating programs and initiatives in research, development, and innovation. The Program began in response to a request from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help institutions build research capacity in states that rank in the lower third in receiving federal research funds, such as Nevada. Recently, it has begun to work with institutions in other states as well, including Virginia and Michigan. The NSF initiative is called the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or "EPSCoR."
"AAAS and I, personally, have worked closely with the University and Community College System of Nevada for a number of years, and we were pleased to be asked to assist with this important task," Teich said.
In their report, the review team recommended implementing a network, or "grid," of computers spread across the three institutions. While the supercomputing facility would play an important role, it would not be the central repository for the computing system. The team also made specific recommendations about how to continue building and managing the grid in the future.
"Our report takes a statewide perspective and we hope it will serve as a blueprint for a major step forward in the development of Nevada's research capabilities," Teich said.
"The AAAS report will have significant impact on future decisions regarding computing capacity for the three research institutions of the University and Community College System of Nevada. It will also be helpful in terms of strategic planning for the System, related to computing needs in general across the state," said Richard Curry, Vice Chancellor of Academic and Student Affairs at the University of Nevada, and Statewide EPSCoR Director.
22 July 2002