iPlant Collaborative helps researchers ask ‘bigger questions’
CLEMSON — It can be difficult to comprehend just how quickly science is advancing in the 21st century, so it stands to reason that scientists are looking for better ways to make sense —and keep track of — it all.
Enter the iPlant Collaborative, a virtual network funded by the National Science Foundation that was created to help scientists ask “bigger questions” while saving them time, effort and funding. Jason Williams, the education, outreach and training leader for the collaborative, recently offered his perspective at a two-day workshop at Clemson University.
“How do we prepare for science that changes so rapidly and looks so different, even two years from now, three years from now?” Williams said. “The strategy for us is to build the infrastructure. If we build the pipes and plumbing and all those other things, then scientists can build what comes on top of it. We want to enable life science researchers and educators to extend our foundational cyberinfrastructure.”
Williams described cyberinfrastructure as data storage, software, high-performance computing and people organized into systems that solve problems of size and scope that would not otherwise be solvable.
“It’s all the things you’re familiar with put into the right organization that are a lot more useful to you as biologists. We’re always doing more, we’re always asking bigger questions. We want to make sure you have the capacity to answer them.”
Kimberly Kanapeckas, a Ph.D. candidate in Clemson’s genetics and biochemistry department, served as an in-house assistant at the workshop. but she was also there to learn.
“My dissertation research involves detecting signatures of de-domestication in the rice genome, so the utility of iPlant’s cyberinfrastructure is particularly relevant to bioinformatic and other computational approaches to test hypotheses along this line,” said Kanapeckas.
Stephen Kresovich, Coker Chair and director of the Institute of Translational Genomics, hosted the event at the university. Kresovich believes Clemson’s strength in information and computational sciences and infrastructure will be the key to advancing the state’s economy in agriculture and human health.
“We get the national and international experts here so that we can take advantage of Clemson’s unique opportunities and strengths,” said Kresovich. “Our foundation of computational capabilities will play a major role in advancing research and education.”