Cynthia Barnes, a computer science major at Bluefield State College, is participating this semester in an introductory Cyberinfrastructure course, which was created as a direct result of an NSF-funded program designed to support an education initiative in cyberinfrastructure.

“I had intended on going into network administration/network security after graduation, but I must say this class is opening up my eyes to new things. I would like to continue my education and work on my Master’s degree at Virginia Tech, and I am now very interested in obtaining a student internship at VBI.”

Last year, VBI, Bluefield State College in Bluefield, WV, and the Galileo Magnet High School in Danville, VA received a $250,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support an education initiative in cyberinfrastructure. The goal of the project is to introduce high school and undergraduate students to the science of bioinformatics and, in particular, the concept and practice of cyberinfrastructure. The program is specifically designed for students who might not normally have the chance to receive formal training in bioinformatics.

This initiative is perfectly suited for Bluefield State College student Cynthia Barnes. Barnes, a computer science major at the college, is participating this semester in an introductory cyberinfrastructure course, which was created as a direct result of the NSF-funded program. The course helps students from a diverse array of academic backgrounds, including mathematics, biology, computer science, and engineering, learn more about bioinformatics while retaining their own unique perspectives. While this new class isn’t a requirement for computer science majors at Bluefield State College, Barnes was attracted to the uniqueness of the class and wanted to be a part of something that was “a first” for the college.

“Since the course is interdisciplinary, we have four instructors and that is definitely something I’ve never experienced before,” Barnes explained. “We have a biology professor, computer science professor, project management professor, and a physics professor all working together to teach us about cyberinfrastructure as it pertains to bioinformatics specifically. Also, all of the students in the class are involved in different fields, which brings an interesting perspective to the class.”

Students enrolled in the course are exploring the relevant literature through discussions and forum postings, helping to emphasize interdisciplinary teamwork in both face-to-face and online environments. Each week, the students are given a topic related to cyberinfrastructure and bioinformatics to discuss in an online forum. Each student posts his or her opinion to spark a discussion on the topic. The first topic assigned to the class involved a report from NSF’s Blue-Ribbon Advisory Panel on Cyberinfrastructure authored by Daniel Atkins and colleagues, which is also referred to as the Atkins Report.1 The accompanying box shows Barnes’ contribution to the Atkins Report discussion. Her thoughts, she explained, originated from thinking about the Advanced Cyberinfrastructure Program discussed in the report.

Barnes says she hopes the class will help her to be successful and efficient working in a team environment. She seems confident that the class will have a positive impact on her future.

“I had intended on going into network administration/network security after graduation, but I must say this class is opening up my eyes to new things,” Barnes said. “I would like to continue my education and work on my Master’s degree at Virginia Tech, and I am now very interested in obtaining a student internship at VBI.”


Atkins Report Class Discussion, by Cynthia Barnes

Cyberinfrastructure was a brand new term to me when this class started and though I could speculate as to its meaning I was looking for a good definition while reading the Atkins Report (1). I picked up the meaning but didn’t really find what I wanted. I did, however, find a definition in a report called "Our Cultural Commonwealth." They state that, "cyberinfrastructure is meant to denote the layer of information, expertise, standards, policies, tools, and services that are shared broadly across communities of inquiry but developed for specific scholarly purposes (2)". So it’s something more specific than a network but more general than a tool. The base technologies of cyberinfrastructure are computation, storage, and communication. Without these integrated electro-optical components, cyberinfrastructure wouldn’t be. The whole point, as I understand it and as is stated in the Atkins Report, is to revolutionize what people can do, how they do it, and who participates by enabling them to share and collaborate over time and over geographic, organizational, and disciplinary distance. Without the base technologies there wouldn’t be much progress, time and money would be wasted. I think achieving the vision of the Advanced Cyberinfrastructure Program will be so beneficial to all fields of study that’s it’s worth the extra $1 billion annual budget. Like we discussed in class, when it comes to bioinformatics, the collaboration of cyberinfrastructure is needed to find out what is really going on in a living organism. This fact was backed up in Science in an article called “Cyberinfrastructure: Empowering a “Third Way” in Biomedical Research”, where it said, "Biomedicine is at the precipice of unlocking the very essence of biologic life and enabling a new generation of medicine. Development and deployment of cyberinfrastructure may prove to be on the critical path to obtaining these goals (3)".

References:

1. Atkins D, Droegemeier K, Feldman SI, Garcia-Molina H, Klein ML, Messerschmitt DG, Messina P, Ostriker JP, Wright MH (2003) Revolutionizing science and engineering through cyberinfrastructure: Report of the National Science Foundation Blue-Ribbon Advisory Panel on Cyberinfrastructure, National Science Foundation.

2. Our cultural commonwealth: The Report of the ACLS Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences, July 18, 2006

3. Buetow, K (2005) Cyberinfrastructure: empowering a “third way” in biomedical research. Science 308(5723): 821-824.


Published by Susan Bland, September 29, 2006