UK's first optical network gives boost to e-Science


Issued by EPSRC on behalf of the UK e-Science Programme

The UK's first dedicated optical network for research will be put to the test at SC05 (SuperComputing 2005) by e-Science projects in astronomy, particle physics and molecular biology. SC05, the premier international conference on high performance computing, networking and storage, takes place from 12-18 November 2005 in Seattle, Washington State, US.

UKLight, the UK's high bandwidth (1Gbit/sec) optical network, linked to similar networks around the world, enables researchers to transfer far greater amounts of data directly from one remote location to another than would be feasible with conventional, packet-switched networks. Installation of the first phase was completed this summer when the final three of nine UK academic sites were connected.

Some of the demonstrations at SC05 will push data transfer rates beyond their present limits, whereas others will show how UKLight's enhanced quality of service is enabling researchers to tackle challenging scientific problems that have remained out of reach until now.

  • Bandwidth challenge UKLight will take part in an international bandwidth challenge that aims to transfer data at a higher rate than ever before. Using a 10Gbit/sec Trans Atlantic dedicated optical channel, researchers will attempt to achieve 6Gbit/sec when sending data from the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in the US to the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK.
  • Radio astronomy Radio astronomers from three European observatories will use UKLight to transfer real time data picked up from the same radio object to the Haystack Observatory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Together with two observatories in the US and one in Japan, they will demonstrate how optical networks could transform major radio telescopes, widely dispersed across the globe, into the equivalent of one vast telescope by enabling them to send data collected from the same region of sky at the same time for immediate processing. "We'll generate an image of the object if we can on the day. This will be the biggest test of global eVLBI (Very Long-Base Interferometry) so far attempted," says Dr Ralph Spencer from the Jodrell Bank Observatory.
  • Particle physics The GridPP e-Science project will demonstrate software that allows researchers to keep tack of data movement on UKLight. GridPP is the UK's contribution to the international effort to build a grid infrastructure capable of handling the enormous amount of data expected when the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the next generation particle physics experiment, comes on line at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland in 2007. "When the LHC is on-line, we'll need UKLight because the production network will struggle to cope with the volume of data," says Dr Roger Jones from Lancaster University.
  • Molecular biology SPICE (Simulated Pore Interactive Computing Experiment) will demonstrate how access to supercomputers on the UK National Grid Service and the US TeraGrid, connected by dedicated optical networks including UKLight, enables researchers to simulate and visualize more complex biological process than would otherwise be possible. SPICE will simulate the movement of a DNA molecule through a protein nanopore embedded in a cell membrane. "We're transferring modest amounts of data compared with some of the other applications," says Dr Shantenu Jha from University College, London. "What's important for our simulations is the quality of service we get with UKLight. There's no loss or re-ordering of data which means that we can steer the simulations interactively." SPICE has been short-listed in SC05's high performance analytics challenge.
  • Two US projects will also make use of the US/UK "grid of grids" used by SPICE. The NekTar project will simulate blood flow through the entire network of human arteries by coupling different types of simulation performed on supercomputers in the US and UK. The VORTONICS project will use the same infrastructure to simulate and visualize highly computationally-intensive problems in fluid dynamics.

The umbrella programme which brings projects such as these together to test UKLight is called ESLEA (Exploitation of Switched Lightpaths for e-Science Applications). "These projects have already provided invaluable insights into the potential of UKLight, and early indications are that its high bandwidth facility will significantly enhance the UK's e-Science research capability," says Mr Colin Greenwood, ESLEA project manager at the National e-Science Centre, Edinburgh.


UKLight was commissioned by the JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) committee for the support of research (JCSR) in June 2004. It will be incorporated into SuperJanet 5, the upgrade to the UK academic network at the end of 2006. The nine UKLight nodes are at University College, London, Cambridge, Leeds, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Lancaster, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Mr Colin Greenwood
ESLEA project manager, National e-Science Centre
tel. 44-131-651-4036
e-mail: [email protected]

Dr Shantenu Jha
University College London
tel. 44-207-679-5300
e-mail: [email protected]

Dr Ralph Spencer
Jodrell Bank
tel. 44-147-757-1321
e-mail: [email protected]

Dr Roger Jones
Lancaster University
tel. 44-152-459-4487
e-mail: [email protected]

Dr Richard Hughes-Jones
The University of Manchester
tel. 44-161-275-4117
e-mail: [email protected]

Judy Redfearn,
JISC/e-Science Core Programme
e-Science/Research communications officer
tel. 776-835-6309
e-mail: [email protected]


Notes for editors
1. e-Science is the large scale science that can be carried out by pooling access to very large digital data collections, very large scale computing resources and high performance visualisation held at different sites.

2. A computing grid refers to geographically dispersed computing resources that are linked together by software known as middleware so that the resources can be shared. The vision is to provide computing resources to the consumer in a similar way to the electric power grid. The consumer can access electric or computing power without knowing which power station or computer it is coming from.

3. The UK e-Science Programme is a coordinated 230M initiative involving all the Research Councils and the Department of Trade and Industry. It has also leveraged industrial investment of 30M. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council manages the e-Science Core Programme, which is developing generic technologies, on behalf of all the Research Councils.

4. The UK e-Science Programme as a whole is fostering the development of IT and grid technologies to enable new ways of doing faster, better or different research, with the aim of establishing a sustainable, national e-infrastructure for research and innovation. Further information at

5. JISC the Joint Information Systems Committee is a joint committee of the UK further and higher education funding bodies (HEFCE), and is responsible for supporting the innovative use of information and communication technology (ICT) to support learning, teaching, and research. It is best known for providing the JANET network, a range of support, content and advisory services, and a portfolio of high-quality resources. Information about JISC, its services and programmes can be found at

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
    Published on All rights reserved.