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NSF grant to boost KU’s life sciences computing power

Wed, 09/18/2013

LAWRENCE — A three-year, $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation will provide a boost to computational life sciences research at the University of Kansas and KU Medical Center. The award which comes with $200,000 from KU, bringing the total to $700,000 — provides funds to purchase computer hardware that’s expected to accelerate data analysis and computer modeling for researchers in fields such as genetics, chemistry, biophysics, ecology, evolutionary biology, materials research and pharmaceutical sciences.

Jun “Luke” Huan, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of the bioinformatics and computational life sciences laboratory at KU’s Information and Telecommunication Technology Center (ITTC), is the principal investigator on the project. His team will oversee the installation of the new hardware and ensure the system functions smoothly.

“So much research in science and engineering is data-intensive. Enhanced data processing and storage capability enables researchers to run more elaborate cyberexperiments in a shorter amount of time, which means challenges are solved quicker,” Huan said.

The hardware purchase will cover three areas: storage, computer servers and graphics processing units. It will be housed at KU’s Advanced Computing Facility in Nichols Hall, which opened early in 2013 through a $4.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

“We’re fortunate to already have a wonderful facility in place that can immediately handle the addition of this new hardware,” Huan said. “That means installation will be fast, and we should be up and running in just a few months.”

Huan is working with four KU professors as co-principal investigators: Justin Blumenstiel, assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Ilya Vakser, professor of bioinformatics and molecular biosciences and director of the Center for Bioinformatics; Krzysztof Kuczera, professor of chemistry and molecular biosciences; and A. Townsend Peterson, distinguished professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

“We’re proud of the interdisciplinary nature of the project. With computer science as the backbone, we’ll be providing the computing power for research in a wide-range of fields such as biology, ecology, genetics, biochemistry, biophysics, chemistry, pharmaceutical science and several others,” Huan said.

KU Medical Center investigators are frequent users of ACF. Huan said the grant further strengthens the connection between KU and KU Medical Center by improving the computing facility to process big genomics data. The project also meets two key goals set out in the university strategic plan.

“This effort speaks to the goals of Harnessing Information, Multiplying Knowledge and Promoting Well-Being, Finding Cures. We’re thrilled to undertake this interdisciplinary research effort and expect to see some exciting outcomes,” Huan said.



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Lauded race and class historian becomes KU Foundation Professor David Roediger’s award-winning research and writing has already transformed how historians view the growth of social freedoms in America though the intersection of race, class, ethnicity, and labor. Now Roediger, as KU’s first Foundation Distinguished Professor of History (http://bit.ly/1AbAqYw), will continue to break new ground in those fields as he leads KU’s departments of American Studies and History. Roediger likes to study historical flash points — where one particular change brings a cascade of wider cultural changes. His latest book, “Seizing Freedom, Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All,” makes the point that as slaves began freeing themselves across the South during the Civil War, their emancipation inspired and ignited other cultural movements for freedom — such as the women’s movement for suffrage and the labor movement for better working conditions and an eight-hour day. Understanding the individual stories of average people who wanted to make their lives better, including slaves or factory workers, is important to understanding the wider political movements and elections, Roediger said. “It's tempting to think that all the important political questions have been decided,” he said, “but actually people are constantly thinking about what freedom would mean for them.”


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