Science Gateways Community Institute to provide broad access to resources and expertise

Katherine Lawrence

 The University of Michigan School of Information will play a leading role in community outreach efforts for the newly formed Science Gateways Community Institute (SGCI). The National Science Foundation has announced a multi-million dollar grant to establish this consortium of several institutions of higher education that will increase the capabilities, number and sustainability of science gateways. Gateways are mobile or web-based applications that provide broad access to the nation's shared cyberinfrastructure to scientists and citizens alike.

"Gateways foster collaborations and the exchange of ideas among researchers and can democratize access, providing broad access to resources sometimes unavailable to those who are not at leading research institutions," said Nancy Wilkins-Diehr, associate director of the San Diego Supercomputer Center and principal investigator for the project. "Sharing expertise about basic infrastructure allows developers to concentrate on the novel, the challenging, and the cutting-edge development needed by their specific user community."

In astronomy, bioinformatics, nanotechnology and many other disciplines, science gateways have greatly expanded the number of investigators who can perform computational research on cutting-edge cyberinfrastructure. The institute will transform the way science gateways are developed by incubating new gateways, improving the usability of existing ones and training young gateway developers.

Katherine Lawrence, a researcher at the University of Michigan School of Information (UMSI), is co-principal investigator on the project. “In 2009, Nancy and I began studying the factors that help gateways succeed and persist,” Lawrence said. “We found that gateway creators–who are scattered across diverse fields–wanted an easier way to connect with each other, with specialized expertise, and with existing tools and resources. NSF's Scientific Software Innovation Institutes (S2I2) program gave us a perfect channel for addressing these needs.”

At UMSI, Lawrence will oversee the outreach aspects of the program. “As leaders of the Community Engagement and Exchange area, we will be focusing on growing our community, establishing a broader online presence, and organizing virtual and face-to-face professional development events,” Lawrence said. “Also, our role is to provide opportunities for usability internships through the Institute’s Incubator.”

The new institute brings together expertise from a wide range of partner universities and institutions, including Elizabeth City State University; Indiana University; the University of Notre Dame; Purdue University; and the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at the University of Texas, Austin.

Strategic support
NSF's Software Infrastructure for Sustained Innovation (SI2) program, launched in 2010 to fund software research at multiple scales, is supporting the award. SI2 aims to transform innovation in research and education into sustainable software resources that are integral to cyberinfrastructure.

According to the NSF, the award acknowledges that the maintenance, modernization and improvement of scientific software requires sustained investment and a steady flow of developers skilled in computer science, software engineering and domain-specific knowledge. This award, and the SI2 program broadly, aim to improve the ecosystem in which such software is created and sustained.

The full NSF announcement of the award is available here.

Posted August 2, 2016