LSU computer scientist helping to develop 'virtual lab'

11/18/04

LSU assistant professor Bijaya B. Karki shares in $2.8 million NSF grant

Thanks to the work of an international group that includes LSU Computer Science Assistant Professor Bijaya B. Karki, researchers from around the world may soon be able to conduct computational experiments online in a "virtual laboratory."

Karki is part of a small group of researchers from around the country and world sharing in a $2.8 million National Science Foundation Information Technology Research grant for the creation of a "Virtual Laboratory for Earth and Planetary Studies." Karki's portion of the grant is $100,000. Other universities involved include the University of Minnesota, the lead institute; and the University of California, Santa Barbara; and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Researchers from Italy and Britain are also working on the project.

Essentially, the project will create a Web portal through which researchers can share data and conduct virtual "experiments" using computer simulation and visualization techniques. The technology behind the portal will allow data to be analyzed and represented in a graphical form.

Karki explained that the online lab focuses on earth and planetary studies because material simulations and experimentation often require high temperatures and high pressures that cannot be replicated in a traditional laboratory. However, he said, extreme conditions could be accurately simulated in the portal environment.

For his part, Karki will be working on some of the automated tasks and functions of the portal. He is also developing some of the algorithms that will allow for simulation and visualization. The computer servers that will "house" the project will be located at the University of Minnesota, which has the most researchers working on the project, including the lead or principal investigator. Ultimately, Karki said, the "lab" will not be the exclusive province of earth scientists, as it could also be utilized for experimentation in physics or chemistry. In addition, the portal could eventually be used by students and non-specialists who wish to download data.

"It will have an interactive and user-friendly interface," said Karki.

Karki joined the faculty at LSU in early 2003. His research interests are in scientific computing and visualization and he has published more than 25 journal papers in these areas. Thus, the new NSF-funded project falls right into his realm of specialization. Indeed, earlier this year, Karki received a prestigious NSF CAREER grant for a project titled "Rheology of Materials of Earth's Mantle: High-end Computational/Visualization Research and Education." The NSF CAREER Award is the Foundation's top award for junior faculty members. It is part of the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program, which "recognizes and supports the early career-development activities of those teacher-scholars who are most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century." Karki received his doctorate in computational physics from the University of Edinburgh (U.K.) and a diploma with honors from the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy. Before taking a faculty position in LSU's Department of Computer Science, he worked as a research scholar at the University of Minnesota Supercomputing Institute for Digital Simulation and Advanced Computation and in LSU's Biological Computation and Visualization Center.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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