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…

Coming soon: A “Facebook for hydrologists”

After two years of work, HydroShare, a “Facebook for hydrologists,” will go live in July as an open source website. The HydroShare research team, which includes collaborators from RENCI, Brigham Young University, the University of South Carolina, Purdue University, Tufts University, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of California at San Diego, received a $4.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation in July 2012 for this project.

HydroShare will give hydrologists the technology infrastructure they need to address critical issues related to water quality, accessibility, and management. The open website will be similar to YouTube in that it will allow users to simply drag and drop their models and data to upload to the site, and similar to Amazon, with a message board and rating system. It will provide an online collaborative environment for discovering, accessing and sharing water science research. Read more…

Big data innovation explodes at RENCI

Claire McPherson of Deloitte closes out a great Innovation Summit.

The creative vibes were buzzing at the First NCDS Data Innovation Showcase, held at RENCI on Wednesday, May 21, 2014. The Showcase, centered around innovative strategies for the rapidly-expanding big data field, brought together NCDS members, faculty and students to share data-related projects, activities and ideas.

The Showcase began with a student poster session during breakfast, where students from NCDS academic institutions showcased their submitted posters on data-related projects and networked with industry and university professionals. The group then gathered to hear short presentations from each of the NCDS Data Science Faculty Fellows on the background, goals, and intended results of their research. Read more…

Girl Power in the Programming World

Though their numbers are expanding, women are still the minority in the computer development and website coding community, which remains about 90 percent male. A group of women in the Triangle, Girl Develop It (GDI), formed to provide a comfortable environment where women can learn about coding, website development and new technology and strategies at their own pace. As an institution that believes in diversifying STEM career fields and fully supports broadening the coding community, RENCI recently opened its doors to GDI to provide a space to host its “Python for Beginners” course.

The course, held at RENCI’s Europa Center headquarters on Saturday, April 26, consisted of an all-day workshop on Python, a software program that powers some of the most popular websites and apps, including Pinterest and Instagram. It can be used to build websites, program robots, visualize data and run servers. Read more…

Creating the universe in a Social Computing Room

photoStudents in a communications class at UNC Chapel Hill have been using the recently opened Social Computing Room (SCR) in the Odum Institute to create their own universe.

The SCR provides an immersive 360-degree view of any visual content, allowing users to interact with and explore data in groups. The original SCR, built in 2007, is located in the RENCI space in ITS Manning on the UNC campus. Similar versions based off the original have recently opened at NC State University and in Odum’s offices in Davis Library. RENCI assisted in the technical design and implementation of the room, helping to install all the hardware, baseline operating system, and projectors and supported part of the cost of outfitting the room. Read more…

Hacking for the public good

It’s one thing to say that the explosion of digital data can be used for public good. It’s quite another to sit down in a room for four hours, access open data files and create an application with practical uses.

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View of the Wake County Parks Finder app created using the TerraHub platform.

That’s what Jeff Heard did when he attended the Triangle Open Data Day (TODD) a few weeks ago. TODD, organized by TechnologyTank.org, was a daylong event to promote open data—the idea that digital information from sources such as government agencies should be easy to access and that if it is, smart, innovative techies will use it in interesting ways.

Heard, a RENCI senior research software developer and co-founder of the startup TerraHub, is one such smart, innovative techie. He attended TODD’s hackathon activity with the goal of taking a public data set and creating an application that could transform that raw data into useful knowledge.  And he succeeded. Read more…

The Human Impact of Genetic Research

Jim Evans

Jim Evans of the UNC School of Medicine leads the NCGENES research team.

It’s been about a year and a half since I sat down with Jim Evans, MD, PhD, and Bryson Professor of Genetics and Medicine at the UNC School of Medicine, to learn about NCGENES, a research project to develop processes and a supporting cyberinfrastructure that will allow researchers, clinicians and patients to take full advantage of whole genome and whole exome sequencing. The project is funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute, one of the National Institutes of Health.

The patients enrolled in NCGENES – about 750 of them over four years – have undiagnosed conditions that likely have genetic causes. Through sequencing and an innovative, streamlined analysis process, the researchers hope to find genetic markers for their conditions, make diagnoses, and if possible, treat them. Read more…

TEDxUNC flies high with new ideas

Chancellor Carol L. Folt talks with a student during a TEDxUNC breakout session. (Courtesy of Connelly Crowe, TEDxUNC.)

Chancellor Carol L. Folt talks with a student during a TEDxUNC breakout session. (Courtesy of Connelly Crowe, TEDxUNC.)

It’s been more than a week since the successful conclusion of TEDxUNC 2014, our local version of a TED conference. The event took place Saturday, Feb, 15, only a few days after a winter storm, which closed the university for the previous two and half days and kept most people hunkered down at home.

Despite flight delays and cancellations, all 20 speakers and performers made it to Chapel Hill to perform to a packed house. Another 1,800 viewers from 10 countries watched the events using the conference’s live stream.

TED launched in California a couple decades ago as a way to inspire and motivate people by spreading the most innovative, potentially world changing ideas. Since then, TED events have spread around the U.S. and the world through the TEDx initiative, and this year’s TEDxUNC was the third annual event held at UNC Chapel Hill.

Congratulations to the students, speakers, performers and sponsors who thumbed their noses at a little bad weather and orchestrated a day full of thought provoking ideas and inspiring performances. RENCI is proud to have pitched in as a sponsor.

For a recap of the day’s events, click here. For a recording of the live stream, visit the TEDxUNC website.

RENCI Sponsors TEDxUNC Conference

RENCI is serving as one of the sponsors of the Third TEDxUNC 2014 conference, an annual conference at UNC-Chapel Hill that brings together innovative thinkers from the university, community and state to explore ideas for the future. This year’s conference will be held at Memorial Hall from February 15-25 and the theme will be “Taking Flight”.

This year’s diverse group of speakers includes an astronaut, a beekeeper, social innovators, and several artists including an opera singer, a multimedia artist, and a composer. There will also be two UNC students speaking, who earned this prestigious honor after going through several rounds of a rigorous public speaking competition.

These thinkers will discuss their approaches to some of humanity’s fundamental concerns by explore varied disciplines, transgressing cultural boundaries, and seeking simple, tangible solutions. The conference is always a completely free event, and tickets were all taken by the day after they were released. You can also view the talks via live stream or after the event through online video recordings. For more information, see the conference website.

Green Team Meets at RENCI

Members of the Green Infrastructure Ventures Project, including RENCI Director Stan Ahalt and Larry Band, director of the UNC Institute for the Environment, met for an intense three day planning session at RENCI last week.  The meetings focused on refining the project’s main research questions, which involve the perception, role, and function of green infrastructure across urban and climate gradients in the U.S.

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SEYSYNC) at the University of Maryland developed the Green Ventures project to investigate the role and function of green infrastructure in stormwater for urban watersheds. Margaret Palmer, director of SEYSYNC, is also part of the Green Infrastructure team. Other team members include scientists from RENCI, UNC Chapel Hill, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Arizona State, Oregon State, and Portland State. The researchers, many who are also involved with Water Science Software Institute (WSSI) planning project, will focus on modeling software tailored specifically for developing green infrastructure, such as RHESSys, the Regional Hydro-Ecologic Simulation System.

This was the second workshop the project members have held; a third is planned for spring. Read more about SEYSYNC and the Green Infrastructure Ventures Project here.

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