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Sept. 16, 2020

MSU awarded NSF grant for Science DMZ

From addressing climate change to developing drug treatments, data is key to finding solutions to many global problems. Thanks to a National Science Foundation grant of nearly half a million dollars, MSU researchers will soon be able to easily share huge volumes of data with peers at institutions around the world, through the creation of a Science DMZ. A demilitarized zone, or DMZ as it is known in cyberinfrastructure, is a portion of the network designed to optimize high-performance for research applications. MSU IT will fund construction and maintenance costs exceeding the NSF award amount and serve as co-principal investigators on the grant with the Institute for Cyber-Enabled Research, or ICER. 


Researchers and institutions who gather scientific data are scattered around the world, some grappling with inadequate cyberinfrastructure. Additionally, data can be very expensive to capture, often requiring specialized equipment on top of considerable amounts of time.


While obstacles like these slow progress and limit collaboration, a Science DMZ enables researchers to more easily disseminate terabytes —  even petabytes — of specialized research data, from 10 to 100 gigabits per second, to other research institutions and cloud providers. This ability to share data immeasurably increases its value, as the insights extrapolated from it by additional researchers have the potential to change society in significant and meaningful ways. 


“Right now, everyone who wants to access this pool of data has a straw,” said Professor Brian O’Shea, director of ICER. “This project allows us to give them a fire hose.”  


The Science DMZ will offer increased network speeds and reliability, broadly enhancing MSU’s research and education cyberinfrastructure. All campus network users will benefit from the high-speed network connections that will be used for sharing data already stored at MSU’s High Performance Computing System and on the NSF-funded OSIRIS storage infrastructure. 


The project will be supervised by O’Shea and Executive Vice President for Administration and Chief Information Officer Melissa Woo.


“The cyberinfrastructure provided by a Science DMZ will propel MSU forward in the research space, enhancing our faculty’s ability to collaborate and increasing the impact of their work. This can help MSU attract and secure future research funding, including NSF, NIH and DOE grants,” said Woo. 


In pharmaceutical research, the Science DMZ will enable MSU Professor Michael Feig and his team to handle computational drug modeling that generates massive amounts of data. Effectively sharing his team’s data with other researchers around the world heightens the possibility for new insights leading to new life-saving drug and treatment discoveries.


“We use X-ray Computed Tomography to capture 3D images of intricate plant structures, and use a set of mathematical techniques, Topological Data Analysis, to extract the information embedded in the shape and form of these images,” said MSU Professor Daniel Chitwood. “Each of these X-ray CT images contains immense amounts of data. Not only is it difficult to share with colleagues these large datasets, but it is hard to store the data publicly for reproducibility.” 


Since even the fastest internet connections struggle to handle the transfer of huge data sets — sometimes hundreds of terabytes — researchers have been known to physically mail stacks of hard drives to their peers just to share it. 


The Science DMZ addresses those issues, allowing Chitwood and his team to share CT images with researchers and make them accessible to the public.  


“They can interact with them — rotate them, slice through them, or zoom in on details — to enhance both education and research,” Chitwood said. Using his team’s shared data, one researcher may use the data to analyze the best areas to plant crops to maximize yield, addressing access to healthy food supplies. Another researcher may use their expertise to extrapolate the same data to analyze drought conditions, addressing the impacts of climate change. 


The creation of a Science DMZ at MSU helps eliminate obstacles for better access to valuable data. By sharing resources and working together, researchers are better positioned to collaboratively find solutions to our biggest problems. This project also lays the foundation for a new relationship between MSU IT and the Office of Research and Innovation, strengthening collaboration and strategic planning as MSU develops cyberinfrastructure capabilities to enhance scientific research support. 


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