BLACKSBURG, Va., October 27, 2005 –Bluefield State College, WV, the Galileo Magnet High School in Danville, VA, and the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) at Virginia Tech, have received a $250 000 grant to support a forward-looking initiative for education in cyberinfrastructure.

The funds from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will be used over a period of two years to develop and implement the new course, broaden access of high school and undergraduate students to computer-related technologies, and to encourage trained students to pursue careers in informatics-related projects.

Oswald Crasta, Director of Bioinformatics at VBI’s Cyberinfrastructure Group and the principal investigator on this grant, commented: “This financial support offers a unique opportunity to create an interdisciplinary educational program that encourages the application of diverse fields of science such as computer science, biology, mathematics and statistics through a project-centric learning approach. By introducing students at an early stage to the science of bioinformatics and, in particular, the concept and practice of cyberinfrastructure, we hope to provide them with the information and skills that will propel them into highly rewarding, technologically oriented careers in the years ahead.”

Dr Crasta added: “This program is specially designed for students who might otherwise not have the chance to undergo formal training in bioinformatics. This is an exciting opportunity for us to work with the faculty at Bluefield State College and Galileo Magnet High School to design and implement a flexible, scaleable course matching their needs for many years to come.” Drs Stephen Cammer and Susan Faulkner of VBI will serve as co-principal investigators.

Cyberinfrastructure is a relatively new term for research environments in which advanced computational, data acquisition and management services are made available to researchers through high-performance computer networks. The work that is envisaged in the outreach program is consistent with the published recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel on Cyberinfrastructure.1 One of the findings of this report, which was prepared by Daniel Atkins and colleagues in January 2003, emphasizes the significant educational dimensions needed to support cyberinfrastructure initiatives.

To support a combination of lectures, discussion groups and intensive workshops, staff from all three institutions will jointly develop a wide range of materials, including project and course notes. One of the projects will be a hands-on workshop requiring an emergency response to a hypothetical pathogen outbreak. For this scenario, students will work with experts in areas of infectious-disease management to generate, analyze and interpret a wide range of high throughput genomics data via analytical tools running on a state-of-the-art computer grid. The data will be used to allow experts in public health to develop appropriate control measures for a disease outbreak. The main focus will be integration of multiple disciplines to solve ‘real life’ challenges.

Bill Lawrence, Principal of the Galileo Magnet High School in Danville, Virginia, and a collaborator on this grant, remarked: “I believe this addition to our curriculum will have a major impact on the scope and range of educational opportunities that we are able to offer. We pride ourselves on teaching courses on those technologies that will allow our students to join the workforce of the 21st century. This partnership with VBI, the National Science Foundation and Bluefield State College is a perfect fit in this respect.”

Frank Hart, Dean of Engineering Technology and Computer Science at Bluefield State College, West Virginia, and a collaborator on this grant, commented: “We are very pleased to be part of what we see as a groundbreaking educational project for our students and faculty. Initiatives of this type have the potential to drive economic development in our region by making sure that we are providing our students, future members of the workforce, with the right balance of skills in key high-technology areas.”

The award was approved by the National Science Foundation on September 16, 2005.

Barry Whyte
(540) 231-1767

Published by Barry Whyte, October 26, 2005