Monday, August 27, 2007

Scientists Create Their Own Web 2.0 Network With NanoHUB

[Some excerpts from GridToday article -- BSA]

Scientists Create Their Own Web 2.0 Network With NanoHUB, a so-called science gateway for nano-science and nanotechnology housed at Purdue University, is taking the tools of Web 2.0 and applying them, along with a few tricks of its own, to further nano-scholarly pursuits.

The result is a Web site that is a required bookmark for people who get excited about algorithms, carbon nanotubes, nanoelectronics and quantum dots -- the current hot topics on the site.

Soon, other science disciplines, such as pharmacy and medical research, will be launched using the same technology.

In nanoHUB, if you know the science you can begin to use the tools immediately. nanoHUB puts scientific tools into the hands of people who wouldn't normally touch them with a 10-foot pole."

The nanoHUB is a project of the National Science Foundation-funded Network for Computational Nanotechnology, a consortium of research universities, government agencies and corporate research labs.

Ian Foster, the University of Chicago's Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor of Computer Science, director of the Computation Institute at Argonne National Laboratory and the person sometimes labeled the father of grid computing, says nanoHUB is one of the underappreciated successes of the United States' cyberinfrastructure.

Michael McLennan, a senior research scientist for the Office of Information Technology at Purdue, says that just as Google is famously powered by its secret algorithms, the secret sauce of nanoHUB is a software application that is between the supercomputers at national research facilities that power the site and the Web interface. This "middleware," named Maxwell's Daemon, also finds available computing resources on national science grids and sends job requests to those computers faster than the blink of an eye.

"Maxwell is actually running back here at Purdue and reaching out to high-performance computing resources on the TeraGrid and other science grids across the nation," McLennan says. "This middleware is more sophisticated than running a Java applet in the Web browser."

nanoHUB is the first of several planned science hubs housed at Purdue.

"Eventually we will release Maxwell as open-source software once we test it, package it and write documentation for it," McLennan says. "However, there are still groups that don't want to build their own hubs, even with the middleware, and we are contracting with those groups to build hubs for them." The nanoHUB takes advantage of several Web 2.0 technologies:

* Like YouTube and Digg, nanoHUB consists of user-supplied content. On the site, users find software, podcasts, PowerPoint lectures and even Flash-based video tutorials.

* Like sites such as Flikr or YouTube, nanoHUB has dynamic tags that automatically aggregate into subject categories.

* Like Netflix, users can rate any resource on nanoHUB. Software, podcasts, lectures and contributors' contributions all can be rated by the community.

The real stars of nanoHUB are its simulation tools. So far, 55 nanosimulation software tools have been made available through the site for subjects such as nanoelectronics, chemistry and physics. These tools allow researchers to change data or views of their simulations and see real-time changes. In the last 12 months, there have been more than 225,000 such simulations run on nanoHUB.