Wyatt Madej, system administrator who drafted the main ideas for the grant proposal. MANHATTAN.EDU/COURTESY
By Angelina Persaud, News Editor
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has granted Manhattan College $639,778 to enhance cyber infrastructure and computing resources on campus. This is the largest NSF grant the college has received in its history.
The grant was created through a collective effort between the IT department and various faculty and staff members and will provide funding for a two year term beginning in August.
According to manhattan.edu, “The new network will be designed to improve the flow of scientific data, which will facilitate research in a variety of disciplines, including engineering, mathematics, chemistry and sociology.”
Namely, the electronic resources on campus will be broadened for both student and faculty use, which includes strengthening the already existing cybersecurity systems utilized by the community on a daily basis.
Robert Moran, interim chief information officer, was the principal investigator (PI) for the grant and oversaw the team to ensure they had the proper resources to draft the proposal.
Moran explained some of the reasoning behind applying for the grant, which included the requests of faculty and staff to receive updated equipment and computers in their student labs.
“We did shift funds around to upgrade computers for electrical and computer engineering and mechanical engineering,” Moran said. “We had some labs with computers that were quite old, and Dr. Ward and Dr. De had come to me with these requests.”
Wyatt Madej, system administrator in the IT department, drafted and submitted the proposal to the NSF, which also was the first proposal he applied for in his professional career.
He spoke about the key collaboration between MC and the American Museum of Natural History, a partnership which provided a useful means of coming up with ideas to expand the college’s technology.
“We started talking about research, computing, and Research Data Services,” Madej said. “And they told me about the National Science Foundation’s Cyber Infrastructure Program. They told me all about the program, and it immediately intrigued me and I said ‘this is something Manhattan College needs’.”
A key feature of the grant includes funding to build the “Science DMZ” at MC, which will facilitate broader, faster research opportunities for students and faculty. Essentially, this DMZ will be built specifically for easier access to research materials while also providing MC with connections to key research institutions and resources.
“Science DMZ, which is a special part of our network that will be separated from the rest of our network, is dedicated and built and tuned specifically for science data flows,” Madej said. “At Manhattan College, we have firewalls and other security measures that tend to slow things down…but when we’re working with science, we can trust that. So we can build a special part of our network that unlocks extra speed and extra data capabilities between researchers here at Manhattan College and their collaborators.”
Currently, the new system upgrades will benefit engineering related research opportunities, which includes connections with the University of Illinois Delta supercomputer center. Initiatives such as this are the starting point for allowing the college to have wider access to nationwide resources and further collaborations at the college.
“This essentially connects and provides Manhattan College researchers and even students who are doing research to some of the largest academic supercomputers in the United States,” Madej said. “We’re building pipelines with this grant, to act on resources like that, to help accelerate, advance and unlock research in science.”
Madej also noted that a portion of the funding would be allocated to upgrading the servers and data center in the Research and Learning Center (RLC), though it will be distributed campus-wide.
“The science DMZ that we’re building is campus wide,” Madej said. “So no matter who you are, and where you are on campus, if you’re doing science that requires pipelines to access big supercomputers, or you require to move data really, really fast using our data transfer nodes that we’ll be building…you will have access to that capability.”
Zahra Shahbazi, Ph.D., an associate professor of mechanical engineering, was a board member during the proposal phase of applying for the grant. She was called into the project for her background knowledge of NSF grants and to gain a professor’s perspective on how to improve research technology at the college.
“They [other professors] explained how this infrastructure is going to help them to improve their research and take the research to the next step,” Shahbazi said. “So now, there was more faculty involved in the process…we needed to show cases of how the new equipment and infrastructure is going to help people with their research.”
She also noted that the added level of security from the technology updates will further expand research and allow students and faculty to dive deeper into the amount of information they can obtain and share.
“A lot of people are transferring their data from one collaborator to another one,” Shahbazi said. “It’s making sure that we transfer that in a secure manner. It was a challenge here at Manhattan College, and with the new infrastructure, we will be able to do that.” As the abstract from the original grant proposal succinctly states, “This network will support and grow these activities to advance research and STEM education programs that educate students, contribute to new scientific discoveries, inform public policy, facilitate institutional partnerships, and provide a better STEM education to train the next generation of scientists and engineers.”