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How a University of Missouri Gateway Team Made the Most of SGCI’s Services and Community

Prasad Calyam, associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Missouri, is enthusiastic about the potential of cyberinfrastructure to revolutionize interdisciplinary research in complex fields. As Director of the Center for Cyber Education, Research and Infrastructure (Mizzou CERI), Calyam has envisioned science gateways in the fields of neuroscience and cybersecurity, and his aspirations for top-quality tools led him to seek support from SGCI. He had worked in gateways earlier in his career, but moved to other topics for some time. At Mizzou, he returned to this interest and saw an opportunity to connect with the broader community through SGCI. 

The first of two projects tapping into SGCI services, CyNeuro has the goal of helping neuroscientists overcome their limited training and skills with high-performance computing and big data by providing a platform for accessing local, institutional and national, high-end cyberinfrastructure resources. The idea was that this platform integrating data, analysis and visualization tools, computing, and automation would support more productive collaborations across disciplines.

The second project, called Cyber Range, is designed to train future cybersecurity professionals in how to detect and respond to threats that are always evolving and using new tactics. The gateway simulates realistic systems within a virtual environment on a cloud platform and can be used in the classroom, for competitions, or for research. With colleague Songjie Wang, cyberinfrastructure engineer in the University of Missouri College of Engineering, the gateway began as a project within the Virtualization, Multimedia and Networking or VIMAN Lab, offering learning modules in cyber defense based on current research understanding.

Calyam’s initial connection with SGCI was to request technical support for implementing the CyNeuro platform using the CIPRES Workbench framework in order to submit jobs to the national Neuroscience Gateway (NSG), Jetstream’s cloud on XSEDE, and their own university’s cluster. They also wanted to add features such as Jupyter Notebook and an intelligent chatbot. While there were many obstacles to implementation, including local system permissions and students on the project graduating, Calyam felt that the work with SGCI was a success. Our support enabled demonstrations that he could use to engage the neuroscience community and created a system that the neuroscientist on the team could use with his community and teaching. The collaboration also led to conference presentations and special-issue journal papers, plus further funding. Calyam remarked, “In terms of learning and solid measurable things, it has been a good collaboration.”

Subsequently, Calyam and Wang applied for a Cloudify Gateways award, promoted by SGCI and SGCI collaborator CloudyCluster in conjunction with the Gateways conference series. The award to Cyber Range provided Google Cloud Platform credits and support from CloudyCluster, which would give students valuable experience on a portable, commercial cloud system. As they developed the system further, they recognized that the platform could benefit from usability expertise, so they worked with the usability team, which identified a prioritized list of changes that could be made to the navigation and visual components. The platform has been used as part of Calyam’s cyber defense course at Missouri. Wang praised his experience of working with SGCI’s consultants, “We really enjoyed working with both groups, [technical support] and the usability testing group. All members were really, really responsive and provided lots of help and feedback. So we really enjoyed that.”

Calyam and Wang also tapped into the Incubator’s educational programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, first attending the shorter Jumpstart Your Sustainability Plan and later joining the Virtual Focus Week. Exposure to the tools in these workshops helped the team refine their pitch for the Cyber Range gateway, and they have continued to develop the gateway with funding from the National Security Agency. Their collaboration with SGCI also enabled them to secure other funding for a chatbot that could be generalized from CyNeuro to other gateways.

The team became involved with the broader gateway community in other ways. They presented papers about their work at three Gateway conferences, featuring their work on developing CyNeuro for teaching, chatbots, and plug-in middleware. They also collaborated on a paper at Gateways 2019 about measuring the impact of science gateways, which involved 16 authors representing a diverse set of gateways. After the conference, lead author Nancy Wilkins-Diehr, who had retired from her founding role at SGCI, suggested that Calyam expand the paper for submission to a special issue of Concurrency and Computation: Practice and Experience. The paper–extended now to 24 contributors including international gateways–was accepted for publication in 2020. Calyam was delighted with the opportunity to work with and learn from Wilkins-Diehr and the other authors.

Calyam also contributed to the community in other ways. One of his master’s students, Soumya Purohit, spent a summer as an intern at the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Inc. (CUAHSI), working on the HydroShare gateway. After graduating, she was hired by CUAHSI as a gateway staff member. Calyam exclaimed, “In this pandemic, anything like that is double the blessing. Just that alone I would rank at the top of the benefits of SGCI to help a student have that kind of experience and have the ability to go off and get a full time job, especially an international student. That, for me, is huge, that I have a student succeeding like that and SGCI enabling that. I put that in the number one spot of the help that SGCI gave to our lab.”

Ultimately, for Prasad, it is the broad array of services that SGCI provides that helped his gateways and his lab succeed at their gateway projects. He kept discovering new opportunities and resources within this broad community that offered valuable benefits. His recommendation to others is to look out for all those opportunities afforded by SGCI. This is best explained in his own words:

“It was really awesome that through SGCI I got reconnected with the gateway community. It's such a vibrant community. We were able to get a lot of visibility, engage with the community, learn a lot of things from the resources being available. I think the SGCI engagement really helped us become a contributor, or a participant, in the larger gateways community at the scholarly level, at a technical level, at an educational level. There's so much that is to be benefited from. Maybe you can share some of these examples of impacts with the community, so somebody who's starting off with SGCI can get a scope of the kind of wonderful things that they can benefit from. I had no idea all this could happen, but just looking back as you're asking, I'm just going like, ‘Wow, we caught them all.’”

Want to engage with SGCI and the gateways community, just like Calyam and his team? Learn more about our embedded technical support, usability and other consulting, internship opportunities, annual Gateways conference, and Focus Week.