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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.



Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner. See it here: http://bit.ly/1awodaa
Rock Chalk! Junior Ashlie Koehn named KU's 18th Truman Scholar
Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening.

.@NYTimes columnist @WCRhoden will speak at a symposium about race and sports April 23. http://t.co/UiKA9MYNv0 http://t.co/PHwCOHqcfD
Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: http://bit.ly/1awodaa Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.


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