Finding common ground in the Social Computing Room

A delegation from Kyrgyzstan views biopsy slides in the RENCI Social Computing Room.

A delegation from Kyrgyzstan views biopsy slides in the RENCI Social Computing Room.

Science, like music, is an international language. No matter their cultural, ethnic, or religious backgrounds, no matter if they conduct fieldwork in the U.S. or run a lab in central Asia, scientists always seem able to find common ground.

It’s a fact all competent science communicators understand, and one I was reminded of when a delegation of science and technology professionals from Kyrgyzstan visited RENCI’s Social Computing Room (SCR) on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus on Feb. 12. The group, comprised primarily of women with backgrounds in mathematics, software engineering, and information science, journeyed half way around the world to participate in the Open World Program, a U.S. exchange program that supports and encourages current and future leaders in post-Soviet block countries.

UNC Global hosted the Kyrgyzstan scientists, whose interests ranged from finding partners for academic exchange programs, to learning about new information technologies for teaching and research, to attracting more women to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

During their visit, we talked (with assistance from an interpreter) about all those issues and more. As my colleague David Borland (a RENCI senior visualization researcher) began projecting images across the four walls of the SCR, the distance between Chapel Hill, Bishkek, and Osh seemed to shrink.

As educators, the delegation wanted to know how the SCR enables new learning experiences. As techies, they asked about the technical specs for the room. As scientists, they understood the significance of the room’s ability to facilitate collaboration.

Several women asked about RENCI/UNC strategies to attract women into STEM educational programs and careers. Women who work in science, engineering, and technology fields know that diversity is a problem: We must attract more women and underrepresented minorities into STEM fields so that tomorrow’s tool builders and problem solvers reflect the diversity of our population. While it’s frustrating to know this is a worldwide problem, it’s also heartening to realize that young female scientists, born near the end of the Soviet era in a central Asian country I admittedly know little about, share a commitment to addressing this diversity problem.

I told the group about my vision of using the SCR to showcase exciting research and technology to high school and junior high school kids, especially girls. What better way to show how cool it is to work in a STEM field? In turn, the Kyrgyzstan delegation asked our RENCI group for advice and support to build an SCR in their country.

I’m hoping that one day, a bright girl from a village in Kyrgyzstan will walk into an SCR in her country, see science come to life on all four walls, and feel the excitement that puts her on the road to a long and rewarding STEM career.

All because one day in Chapel Hill, a small group of Americans and Kyrgyzstanis found common ground through science.

-Karen Green

Note: Thanks to the aforementioned David Borland, and Ray Idaszak, RENCI’s director of collaborative environments, for making this visit a success. Also thanks to UNC Global and Melissa McMurray for reaching out to RENCI for the Open World visit.

TriPython project nights bring community and innovation to RENCI after hours

The Triangle Python Users Group is a local organization that brings together experienced and new enthusiasts of Python, a widely used computer programming language. The group has been active in our area since 2002 but recently had a need for a new meeting space in the Chapel Hill area.

RENCI has opened its doors for a few of the group’s activities. Project nights are now held the second Wednesday of each month at RENCI. The informal project nights bring together new Python users seeking support and assistance with more experienced users. Together, they talk about their projects and potentially create cross collaboration.

Read more…

Creekside coders create and engage during “Hour of Code” event

Increasingly, every aspect of society – from education to healthcare – relies on software-driven technology. Even as we rely more often on “smart” devices for all aspects of our daily lives, we may not be producing enough computer scientists and software developers to satisfy our demand for all things tech.

Coding1

Creekside Elementary in Durham hopes students will catch the coding bug at a young age.

According to Code.org, by the year 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer science jobs but only 400,000 computer science students ready to enter the field. Additionally, according to the Computing Research Association, the computer science field suffers from an alarming gender and diversity gap that has not improved over the years – in 2010, less than 14 percent of US and Canadian computer science graduates were women, and only 10 percent were minorities.

Read more…

Computer modeling facilitates discussion of coastal hazards

RENCI’s Brian Blanton, PhD, recently gave a talk called “Simulating Storm Surge for Coastal Hazard and Risk Assessment” as part of a Disaster Resilience Symposium held at Virginia Tech.

The goal of the symposium was to facilitate interdisciplinary discussion and collaboration on efforts to reduce the ecological and socioeconomic risks of coastal hazards. Living on a coastline comes with a certain set of risks, and coastal resilience researchers study the most effective ways to ensure coastal communities have the ability to bounce back after events such as tropical cyclones and tsunamis, and the resulting flooding and inundation.

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High performance computing: It really does matter

Better models of coastal storm surge are among  the reasons that HPC matters.

Better models of coastal storm surge are among
the reasons that HPC matters.

Every November thousands of researchers and industry representatives in high performance computing and related fields, such as advanced networking, data storage, and analysis, meet for the annual supercomputing conference.

This year SC14 will bring together computer engineers, software developers, computational scientists, industry CTOs, grad students, and assorted geeks from around the world to New Orleans during the week of November 17. RENCI will be there, sharing information about the iRODS data management platform, the iRODS Consortium, ExoGENI and related projects on Networking Infrastructure as a Service (NIaaS), the National Consortium for Data Science, and other RENCI research projects. Read more…

Hacking for better health

Hacking is not just what computer science students do when they’ve had too much strong coffee.

In 2014, hackathons bring together smart people from a variety of backgrounds for intense, technical problem-solving sessions that often last several days. They are a mainstream method for harnessing brainpower to generate new ideas, business models, products, and technical solutions.

Hacking Pediatrics, held October 18 and 19 at the Microsoft New England R&D Center (yes, the acronym is NERD) was one such Hackathon. About 150 professionals gathered in Cambridge, MA, to spend the weekend developing technologies to improve pediatric healthcare. RENCI’s Ketan Mane attended the invite-only event, and needless to say, he had a productive two days. Read more…

Building better classifiers for reproducible science

RENCI’s Clark Jeffries recently presented a webinar for Orion Bionetworks called “Seeking Best Practices in Classifier Construction and Testing.”

Jeffries is a PhD-level bioinformatics specialist with an interest in interpreting neuroscientific information to better understand and treat psychiatric and neurological conditions. For years he has worked with researchers in the School of Medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill to analyze data and better understand debilitating diseases like schizophrenia.  Read more…

Environmental science infrastructure across continents

 

The CoopEUS conference will be he;d in Helsinki, Finland, starting Sept. 30

The CoopEUS annual meeting will be held in Helsinki, Finland, starting Sept. 30

Infrastructure for research in the environmental sciences shouldn’t be constrained by national boundaries. That’s the idea behind Cooperation EU-US, or CoopEUS.

Launched by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the European Union through its Research Infrastructures action of the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, CoopEUS brings together American and European scientists involved in environmental research projects for collaboration that will facilitate building a truly global and integrated infrastructure to support environmental research.  Read more…

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Codefest to focus on collaboration and results

Here’s a concept: a conference where people get real work done.

I’m not attempting to be snarky or to criticize the many worthwhile conferences offered to professionals every year; I’m simply paraphrasing a statement on the Open Science Codefest website. OSCodefest will bring together scientists and programmers involved in developing scientific software who think their work could benefit from collaboration with other researchers, software engineers and developers. Read more…

In science, software matters

Outer Banks flooding from Hurricane Irene (2011). Modeling software used to understand high-impact events will benefit from software development best practices.

Outer Banks flooding from Hurricane Irene (2011). Modeling software used to understand high-impact events will benefit from software development best practices.

In the 21st century, it’s impossible to separate science from the software scientists use to collect data, run computer models and analyze model outputs.

Several RENCI experts make the case for sustainable software development practices in scientific research in two articles recently published in the Journal of Open Research Software.  In the first article, written by RENCI Senior Scientist and Oceanographer Brian Blanton and Chris Lenhardt, domain scientist for environmental data sciences and systems, the authors point out that developing scientific software that is sustainable, accessible, and transparent is especially important when policy decisions and public safety are at stake. Read more…