Bowdoin to Benefit from Federal Grant to Speed Scientific Communication

Story posted October 25, 2007

Bowdoin students and scientists are now closer to being able to send more scientific data faster and participate in new high-speed regional and national cyber-networks, thanks to a $294,000 grant from the National Center for Research Resources, a component of the National Institutes of Health.

Awarded to the Maine IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE), the funds will be used to connect member institutions through the high speed Research and Education Network currently under development at the University of Maine.

"This is wonderful news," says Dr. Patricia Hand, Administrative Director of the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory and Principal Investigator of the Maine INBRE. "Essentially, it will connect Maine INBRE institutions to the 'backbone' of high-speed optical fiber that the Maine Research and Education Network is building. Our students and faculty will be able to share the huge volume of data that today's research generates and have access to sophisticated equipment across the nation."

"This new bioinformatics infrastructure brings our genomics research into a national arena," notes Cristle Collins Judd, dean for academic affairs. "It also gives us access to complex scientific databases normally only found in large medical and research institutions."

INBRE supports a broad range of faculty research in comparative functional genomics at Bowdoin and provides substantial funding for student research. Among the College's research areas is a long-term study of neuroregeneration mechanisms found in crickets.

A major goal of the INBRE program is to strengthen Maine's capacity to conduct biomedical research and increase the competitiveness of Maine students and faculty. It focuses on "comparative functional genomics," determining the function of specific genes by studying them in a broad variety of species. New imaging techniques, databases, and an emphasis on bioinformatics have more than tripled the demand for data storage among Maine research and educational institutions in the past year.

The Research and Education Network, funded earlier this year with a $3 million state supplemental budget appropriation to the University of Maine, is planning to build a fiber-optic based computer network that will significantly enhance high speed connectivity among research, education, healthcare and government institutions in Maine and link them with other national networks. Data will be able to travel over the non-commercial "Internet2" at 10 Gbps (gigabytes per second), rather than its current 0.5 Gbps.

However, most of the Maine INBRE member institutions currently do not have sufficient bandwidth to use the new network. INBRE is led by the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory. Other member institutions include The Jackson Laboratory, College of the Atlantic, Bates and Colby Colleges, and the University of Maine campuses of Orono, Farmington and Machias.

The new $294,000 grant will allow the extension of fiber optic cable not only to Bowdoin's campus, but to the Bates, Colby, College of the Atlantic, and MDIBL campuses as well. The grant will also help upgrade data storage capacity at MDIBL. In addition to making it possible to share vast quantities of data, the increased bandwidth will permit the remote use of research equipment at distant locations. It will also benefit Maine educational institutions who are not connected by reducing the competition for bandwidth from the current computer "hub" at the University of Maine.


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