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The Pathway from Research to Innovation Furthering a Research Enterprise

By April 9, 2020 No Comments

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is deep-seated in a culture of innovation and invention and is recognized for the impressive scope and impact of the institution’s research and educational programs. As a hotbed of new theories and discoveries, the University’s findings have a remarkable influence in the local community and throughout the world. Aligning advanced research projects in a wide spectrum of areas with the University’s academic mission is a complex challenge, but through proper planning and partnerships, success is achievable.

Advancing Research Resources

The National Science Foundation (NSF) funds research and education in science and engineering through grants and contracts. A recent Rutgers project funded by NSF built a 100 Gigabit research network linking the New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden campuses together to further advance research efforts through collaboration. An additional NSF award will provide $1M of funding to build a research testbed to examine edge computing and devices. Researchers will investigate new programming languages for networking and this cutting-edge study could lead to exciting insight into handling data between campuses and around the country.

The Office of Advanced Research Computing (OARC) at Rutgers is a university-wide initiative dedicated to developing a centralized advanced research computing and data cyberinfrastructure (ACI) ecosystem. The caliburn supercomputer, the most powerful computing resource in the state, was recently added to the OARC’s arsenal of science and discovery assets. Always available to scientists at Rutgers, Caliburn is also accessible to researchers at other New Jersey colleges and universities and across industry verticals. The capabilities of this system will reaffirm New Jersey’s reputation in advanced computing and prove a valuable resource to a broad spectrum of academic disciplines across industry sectors.

Rutgers is also promoting research collaboration beyond the borders of New Jersey by leading the Eastern Regional Network (ERN) initiative which supports research collaborations spanning multiple universities throughout the northeast. The ERN provides access to shared data and computing facilities for research projects to allow campuses to benefit from multi-institutional resources and emerging technology. The ERN has been using Rutgers as a technology testbed to explore new ideas and address challenges. In addition, the network is expanding to other regions of the country, where new insight and expertise will continue to advance the ERN’s mission. “The ERN’s findings from collaboratively examining particular research areas will be a driving force for future investment in infrastructure that supports the research community,” says Dr. Barr von Oehsen, Associate Vice President of the Office of Advanced Research Computing (OARC) at Rutgers. “This network helps tie the research community together and having the support of surrounding states and regional network providers, like Edge, is essential to advancing the frontiers of research, education, and innovation.”

Designing Valuable Infrastructure

As a national leader in research computing, Rutgers is dedicated to building and enhancing the advanced research computing capabilities at the University and beyond. During von Oehsen’s post-graduation journey, he gathered valuable knowledge on building infrastructure and successfully supporting research. “Being a person who comes from the mathematics world, where I earned my Ph.D. from Rutgers, and equally understands research and infrastructure has allowed me to position OARC as a bridge between the two worlds,” shares von Oehsen. “This insight helps researchers become more productive in their missions. We have conversations with the research community constantly and understand their pain points. We then design the infrastructure and find solutions that address these challenges.”

Advanced research computing involves high-performance computing, storage and networking and as the ERN expands to include more organizations, research and education networks like Edge will play an important role. “As a land grant institution, Rutgers works with other colleges and universities across the state,” explains von Oehsen. “Having Edge as a partner is extremely important not only locally, but will allow us to extend our reach outside the state and explore how to include other regions as we continue to build our infrastructure.”

Driving Research Initiatives

As a national leader in advanced research computing, Rutgers has a well-informed perspective on how higher education research initiatives are unfolding. The OARC has ongoing conversations with the research community to keep a finger on the pulse of the latest projects and technology, allowing them to proactively prepare for what lies ahead. “At Rutgers, we’ve tapped into the research community much more deeply and understand the topics people are interested in discussing,” says von Oehsen. “For example, cloud computing is a common topic of conversation. We are developing ways to build out hybrid solutions that put us ahead of many other institutions—primarily because we decided to start looking at solutions now, instead of being reactive as the technology advances.”

Traditionally, research computing involved physicists, chemists, and engineers who were familiar with the capabilities; now, other areas of study have become science drivers, like humanities, business, and health. With the digitization of their worlds, these departments have access to tremendous amounts of data, but lack the capability to perform the analytics required to conduct their research. “The models within these areas are becoming more sophisticated,” explains von Oehsen. “The amount of data is increasing, but the tool sets these research groups are using no longer run on desktops. The OARC devotes a great deal of time working with these new and emerging areas to help them successfully continue with their research. When we design our systems and apply for grants for future infrastructure, we look to science drivers to create the overarching business plan.”

Research’s Changing Landscape

Providing the infrastructure for computer-aided research and scientific discovery for a diverse group of disciplines can be challenging, but speaking to stakeholders and incorporating multiple perspectives helps steer development in the right direction. “We want to make sure that even before we purchase any new equipment, we have a conversation with all the stakeholders necessary so we build the infrastructure that will be useful to the entire research community,” says von Oehsen. “Our team continually collects statistics on the usage of our systems, including different departments, the types of training we offer, and overall training attendance. We’re finding faculty and staff outside of the research community are attending our training. Big data problems are everywhere and other areas of study need access to these resources.” As the research landscape further evolves, gaining stakeholders support is vital to advancing the research community as a whole. “Speaking the language of the stakeholders is absolutely essential,” shares von Oehsen. “We discuss the impact these resources have on campus capabilities and faculty recruitment, as well as the types of grants that become available to further advance research initiatives.”

For institutions that are working to build capacity and capability in support of research, von Oehsen recommends sitting down with the community you are trying to serve before you begin building. “We first have conversations with different research groups across the University to gather a better understanding of their needs. Patience is key. Aligning the services, the training, and needed support of new infrastructure often takes around five years.” von Oehsen also recommends keeping a list of stakeholders essential to a project’s success and keeping them informed of the progress along the way.

Partnering for Progress

Supporting and enabling research collaborations that span multiple universities is no simple task, but success lies in the partnerships between departments and across the higher education community. Engaging the collective knowledge, skills, and creativity of a multitude of researchers will allow the community as a whole to keep up with the rapidly evolving technology of the future. “We can’t do this alone,” says von Oehsen. “We are unable to be experts in everything and the only way to support the community locally, regionally, and nationally is through a community of people in the trenches, just like us, that are passionately supporting research.” Together, we can unlock the unknown and inspire discoveries that will greatly benefit humanity and the world.