CI-TEAM Demonstration Project: A Cloud-enabled Evolutionary Genetics Learning Tool for Engaging the Net-Savvy Generation (POP!World)
Bina Ramamurthy Principal Investigator
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This team at SUNY at Buffalo is developing POP!World, a cloud infrastructure-enabled comprehensive platform for experiential learning, education, training and research in population genetics and evolutionary biology. Population genetics is one of the foundations of the modern evolutionary synthesis. It enables discoveries in all areas of evolutionary study and provides tools for predicting the outcome of evolutionary events. The proposed integrated platform will support a wide range of tools from simple learning at the K-12 level up through college and on to applied research on genetic outcomes. This project will address the primary goal of the CI-TEAM solicitation ?Prepare current and future generations of scientists, engineers, and educators to design and develop as well as adopt and deploy cyber-based tools and environments for research and learning, both formal and informal?. <br/><br/>The major goal of POP!World is to leverage the advances in cyber-infrastructure to improve accessibility of important biological concepts to students at all levels. It is designed to empower a broad spectrum of users with access to cyber-enabled scientific resources, tools and platforms, thus, preparing the next generation of scientists. In informal settings the features of this platform will be used to inspire K-12 students and kindle their interest in STEM areas. POP!World offers a highly engaging alternative to currently prevalent textual environments that fail to captivate net-generation audiences. It is also more mathematically focused than currently available graphical interfaces, allowing it to be used as a basic teaching tool and expanded to higher education levels and collaborative research platforms. Special features of the project include a professional education and research platform for high-fidelity simulations of microevolutionary processes (e.g.: selection, mutation, migration, genetic drift, and non random mating). The tool includes interactive simulation with visually appealing displays of outcomes; status panels displaying computed and derived information from the input and simulation process, student evaluation modules, and research components for setting up hypothetical experiments. <br/><br/>The project is serving as a model to demonstrate the practical challenges and solutions in transforming the emerging cloud infrastructure to multi-disciplinary tool development. The tool will be universally accessible via the cloud machine images, and will run on the cloud using its computational capabilities thus not limiting the user machine. Although this project is initially using Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Google App Engine as cloud hosts, the tool can be easily adapted to other cloud environments. Cloud-enabling allows for easy set-up for training sessions and offers a truly scalable model for mass dissemination of POP!World. The project will be developed using open-source software and will itself be available as open-source under GNU public licensing. Cyber-savvy students will be not only the users of the POP!World but also be the creative force behind the design and implementation of the tool. We plan to develop major components of the POP!World as capstone projects for students majoring in Computer Science & Engineering and Bioinformatics. <br/><br/>Intellectual Merit: The project is a synergistic inter-disciplinary collaboration among investigators from Computer Science & Engineering and Biological Sciences. The PI has background in grid-computing and data-intensive computing research and education and in tool building. She has successfully implemented an NSF-supported curriculum for data-intensive computing. She is guiding the design and implementation of POP!World. The co-PIs will are using their extensive experience in population genetics, evolutionary biology, and course design to guide the theoretical and practical science aspects of the project and demonstrate POP!World?s diverse use in introductory and advanced courses of the biology curriculum. The external consultant has a unique background as an award winning community college professor and a retired program manager of a Fortune 500 company. <br/><br/>Broader Impact: The POP!World project showcases the impact of the emerging cloud-infrastructures on multi-disciplinary collaboration and research. It illustrates an affordable and effectively adaptable delivery mechanism (i.e. the cloud) for scientific innovations to a wide demographic, and will make the technology highly accessible to a variety of organizations. This is expected to engage a diverse population of many types of participants (students K-12, educators, researchers, adult learners, etc.). POP!World can be used as learning tool for attracting, retaining and engaging the net-generation workforce at all levels and in multiple disciplines. It is expected to have a very broad impact on improving the preparedness of our Sciences & Engineering tech-savvy workforce by supporting exciting visual interactions, experimentation involving "what if" inquiries for learning and research. Results will be disseminated widely through conferences and workshops to audiences at all levels. This all-female team of investigators with truly diverse background is deeply committed to mentoring, educating and training.