Rarely the product of the “lone genius” toiling in the lab, scientific discoveries are, rather, generally made possible through diverse collaborative networks. We were reminded of this in early April when the Event Horizon Telescope team captured the first-ever image of a black hole. Katie Bouman, a post-doc at MIT, emerged as the team’s “face” on social media in a photo showing her awe-struck exuberance at the team’s success after years of hard work. Bouman, and her photo, endure as a valuable representation of women in the sciences, and computer sciences, in particular.
Though women account for nearly half the workforce in the United States, a 2011 Department of Commerce study found that they hold fewer than 25% of jobs in STEM fields, and the numbers have not improved much since. More recently, the 2018 Microsoft-sponsored study “Closing the STEM Gap” surveyed 6009 women ages 10-30 to determine factors keeping women from pursuing careers in STEM fields. To remedy the shortage, it recommends positive exposure to role models, emphasis on the creative aspects of such careers, and support for women pursuing such paths from parents, teachers, and mentors.
Here at Indiana University, theCenter of Excellence for Women in Technology(CEWiT) offers events and experiences that spark interest in, and engagement with, technology. Earlier this year, Andrea Avena Koenigsberger, Mike Young, and Arvind Gopu from the Scalable Compute Archive (SCA) team gave a talk titled “Modern Web Technologies Enabling Science & Research” at the CEWiT Summit. The SCA - which describes both a software suite and the team that manages it - builds, delivers, and operates customized web user interfaces, secure data management systems, and integrated scientific software application pipelines. Its systems are securely accessible from any web device at any time, allowing scientists to focus on their research while the SCA handles the computer science for them.
The team’s presentation addressed three different ways the SCA team is currently working to broaden the use of cyberinfrastructure in fields beyond computer science. Dr. Koenigsberger began with a demonstration of HPC everywhere, a portal that provides web-based access to a broad set of information designed to make IU’s research supercomputers more accessible to researchers who might find traditional Unix command-lined based use challenging. She also presented a system for medical neuroimaging quality control, which draws in enormous amounts of data and notes discrepancies among the images to signal software or instrument flaws. Mike Young then demoed the One Degree Imager - Portal, Pipeline, and Archive (ODI-PPA), which was developed to address the data volume and processing requirements of large-scale astronomical images generated by the ODI imager on the WIYN 3.5m telescope on Kitt Peak in Arizona. Importantly, though these web portals were developed to support these particular fields, their capabilities extend to other fields as well, empowering researchers and students by giving access to IU’s high performance computing tools for data storage, processing, visualization, and analysis.
These may seem like disparate examples, and they are, but there’s good reason for it; the workshop made a strong case for both the utility of cyberinfrastructure beyond computer science and the power of modern web technologies and a diverse team of developers in accelerating science (Koenigsberger, Young, Gopu have a background in brain sciences, astronomy, and computer science, respectively). The SCA team cultivates collaborations with groups underserved within the realm of cyberinfrastructure, and recognizes the necessity of improving accessibility to these resources while also contributing to the proliferation of new voices within the field.
The SCA team is considering holding a half- to full-day tutorial/workshop on developing web applications (in particular, one using MongoDB, VueJS and node.js) this fall, and is currently gauging interest from the IU community. If you’re interested, or if you know students who might be, please contact email@example.com for more information.