NSF program provides bandwidth to change how people teach, learn and explore

December 20, 2002

As the site of the world's largest single-dish radio telescope, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico is one of the most important national centers for research in radio astronomy and planetary radar. Now, thanks to the National Science Foundation's (NSF) High-Performance Network Connections (HPNC) program, astronomers such as Tom Troland at the University of Kentucky can access their research data many times faster than before.

"For me, Arecibo's Internet2 connection means I can analyze my data with the observatory's computers from here in Kentucky, just as easily as if I were on site," said Troland, who uses the radio telescope to study interstellar magnetic fields. "The connection helps all of the observatory's users by making it possible to analyze remote data from your home institution, transfer large amounts of data much more quickly, and even control the telescope remotely."

Every year about 200 scientists visit the NSF-supported National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center at Arecibo, managed by Cornell University, and many students perform observations that lead to their dissertations. Prior to November 2001, data from these observations had to be analyzed on-site or shipped to the mainland on tape, because the observatory had only a relatively meager Internet connection leased from the phone company.

"The observatory can collect data at 40 megabytes per second, and soon we'll be up to 100 megabytes per second," said Arun Venkataraman, Arecibo's director of computing. Before the HPNC award, this massive data collection capacity had been an Internet island unto itself. According to Venkataraman, the Internet2 connection increased their effective off-island bandwidth from 150 kilobytes per second to two megabytes per second.

The HPNC award to Arecibo and the University of Puerto Rico has upgraded the connectivity at the observatory and the university's three campuses. The NSF-funded AmericasPATH "gateway," operated by Florida International University, made the connection of UPR and Arecibo to Internet2 possible.

For the past seven years, NSF has helped extend the reach of the country's network infrastructure to colleges and universities, research centers, and museums. In 2002, the HPNC program is supporting 14 additional sites in providing the connections that open up new opportunities for researchers, educators and students.

"This program is really about changing the way people teach, learn, and explore when provided with network bandwidth that's just not available through basic Internet connections," said NSF's Greg Monaco, HPNC program director. "In addition to enhancing the network infrastructure at 11 universities and colleges, we are pleased to support the educational missions of the Visual History Foundation and the Exploratorium, as well as the medical research at Children's Mercy Hospital."

The Visual History Foundation's (www.vhf.org) award will help provide a high-speed link between 180 terabytes of testimony from Holocaust survivors and the foundation's collaborators who are conducting voice and speech recognition research on the archive. Children's Mercy Hospital's (www.cmh.edu) link will enhance collaborations with Missouri universities to study human chromosomal disorders. The Exploratorium (www.exploratorium.edu) will expand its educational programs to include high-bandwidth data streaming, real-time data mining, and other multimedia applications.

Since 1995, the HPNC program has given scientists and engineers at 235 sites better access to research facilities across the United States. The awardees benefit from connecting to a national grid of research networks that operate at speeds up to 2.4 billion bits per second.

The two-year awards average $150,000, which will be matched at least equally by each recipient. Awardees may use the funds to connect with the vBNS (very high performance Backbone Network System) or the Internet2 consortium's Abilene.

The latest institutions to be connected by the HPNC program are:
Images of Arecibo Observatory available from http://www.naic.edu/hires/aoviews.html Media contact:
David Hart

Program contact:
Greg Monaco, ANIR

National Science Foundation

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