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December 2, 2009

Feature - Fighting money-laundering, with the grid

Image courtesystock.exchng

When it comes to money laundering, crime really does pay. An estimated 1 trillion US dollars is laundered annually worldwide by criminals moving dirty money around in an attempt to cover up the origins of their cash.
The AMONG (Anti money laundering in Grid) Business Experiment from BEinGRID is set to stop such crooks in their tracks.
AMONG is helping banks to cooperate in order to improve their Anti-Money Laundering (AML) mechanisms. Currently, banks track suspicious behavior with AML systems set up within their own individual institution, with communication between banks initiated only in the case of an anomaly. But this approach can only detect simple cases of fraud.
“Money laundering cannot be dealt with when you look only within one organization,” says Kostas Tserpes from NTUA (National Technical University of Athens), a partner in the project. “By default, the person doing money l

December 2, 2009

Feature - Finding a clue in a data-stack

Data-mining techniques can give law enforcement agencies the edge they need to catch criminals and stop terrorists, but they also raise concerns about respecting personal privacy and civil liberties. New research at Rutgers University has lead to the creation of DI-HOPE-KD, a suite of tools that integrate powerful data mining tactics while guarding civil liberties and due process. Image courtesy Jupiter Images; caption information courtesy of the National Science Foundation

Thanks to a distributed data analysis system under development at Rutgers University, New Jersey, the time it takes police to connect the dots between illicit activities across the globe could go from months to minutes.
Imagine that law enforcement officers in Los Angeles are investigating labs that manufacture the illegal drug methamphetamine. Meanwhile, investigators in Chicago are looking into the illegal sale of large quantities of the drug pseudoephedrine, manufactured i

December 2, 2009

I see crime scenes

IC-CRIME’s laser scanner technology will allow investigators to accurately record room and object dimensions, as well as the placement of every piece of evidence in a crime scene.Image courtesy NCSU

Fighting crime with science isn’t as simple as popular TV shows like CSI would have you believe. But those shows get one thing right: science and technology have a tremendous potential for changing the way crime is investigated.
Today, investigators record crime scenes using sketches and photographs. Bullet trajectories are determined using lasers or even lengths of string. “They take a microsnapshot,” said Mitzi Montoya, a North Carolina State University researcher who specializes in knowledge and virtual team management. “You don’t really know what’s relevant in a crime scene, and you can’t go back and create it, because once it’s cleaned it’s gone forever.”
That could change if the IC-CRIME (Interdiscip

December 2, 2009

Feature - Predicting burglary with the grid

Photo courtesy Andy Fox, stock.exchng

Superheroes like Batman are not the only ones who can make use of sophisticated technology to fight crime. Nick Malleson, a researcher at Leeds University, has designed an intricate computer model to forecast burglary rates, which relies on the UK’s National Grid Service (NGS) to provide the necessary computing power.
Predicting crime is a tricky business, because the likelihood of a burglary can depend upon numerous human and environmental factors, all of which affect one another. In an attempt to forecast general trends, Malleson’s model simplifies the complexities surrounding crime prediction by using an “agent-based” model — one in which largely autonomous individuals, or “agents,” make decisions and perform actions which are influenced by the multiple individual factors within their environment.
In his model, potential burglars make decisions a

December 2, 2009

Image of the week - Facevision

Photo courtesy Geometrix FaceVision

In this era of closed-circuit televisions, surveillance cameras and cell phone cameras, the chances are great that a criminal or a terrorist has been photographed at some point while committing a crime (or shortly before or after). But it can be hard to definitely identify someone, and even eyewitness testimony can be suspect.
But authorities have a new tool: facial recognition software. Software services such as Geometrix FaceVision use quantitative means to compare two facial images, taking millions of measurements of dozens of “landmarks” and unusual features to come up with a match. It can be a numerically complex challenge, as even a small change in pose angle results in an alteration of the distances measured between facial features. Many diffent images, and many calculations, are needed to come up with a  texture-mapped, rotatable, 3-D surface of a face.

November 18, 2009

Feature - A tool for reaching the cloud

There are a many different clound providers to choose from. Image courtesy UCAR

Utility computing is a way for potential clients — whether they are a business or an academic researcher — to match the cost of their computing and storage needs to their demand for these resources. Suppose you need the resources of 1,000 computers, but for only one day per week. Using on-demand utility computing such as clouds allows you to purchase the resources just for the one day, which can result in substantial cost-savings.
Faced with the challenge of developing dynamic, service-focused infrastructures for the media and financial sectors — where data is often subject to rapid peaks and troughs in demand (consider how quickly breaking news develops and how traders on Wall Street react to it) — the Belfast e-Science Center BeSC found that to best exploit the benefits of cloud technology daily, the user needs the opti

November 18, 2009

Feature - HSVO connects the dots A screen capture of HSVO's patient simulator user interface. This mock-up of the patient simulator used videos from a training scenario in which students had to save the life of a teenager severely injured during a basketball game. An advanced mannequin stands in for the teenager. During this particular scenario, the students and mannequin were located in Montreal, the mannequin operator and a tutor were in Ottawa, and another tutor was located in Sudbury, Ontario. Image courtesy of McGill University and HSVO. Don’t let the name of Health Services Virtual Organization fool you. If HSVO is a success, it will be proof of concept for generic middleware that enables cloud-based workflows to access any number of services. And that could have implications for any scientific field. Web portals that give researchers access to data, services, applications and computational resources are becoming increasingly common. Researchers can access a variety of servi

November 11, 2009

Feature - Big science facilities meet the cloud

Dylan Maxwell explains the Science Studio system to a bystander at Summit 2009 in Banff, Alberta. Photo by Miriam Boon.

Lab notebooks are so passé. In the brave new world of cloud computing, the entire experimental process will take place in your web browser.
And if a team of Canadian researchers at the University of Western Ontario and the Canadian Light Source in Saskatchewan has anything to say about it, researchers around the world will be using a web platform called Science Studio.
“One of the aims of Science Studio is to be able to access big science facilities such as the Canadian Light Source,” said Marina Fuller, a chemistry researcher with the project. “It’s a complete experiment management system.”
The test case for Science Studio is the VESPERS beamline at the Canadian Light Source synchrotron. When Science Studio is complete in 2011, researchers will be able to use the platform to apply

November 11, 2009

Feature - Envirogrids: Protecting the Black Sea

Kız Kulesi (Leander’s Tower) in Istanbul’s harbor, whose waters feed into the Black Sea via the Bosphorus Straits. The EnviroGRIDS project will aid in protecting an area of great natural and cultural beauty. Image courtesy özhan 

The Argonauts sailed on its waters. Its eastern shores (now Georgia) marked the boundary of the known world to the Ancient Greeks. The lands along its northern shores are possibly the cradle of the Indo-European language family. The Black Sea region is rich in culture, history, natural beauty and — for the past 50 years — environmental problems.The land area containing the tributaries that feed into the Black Sea is five times the size of the sea itself (2 million square km). This “catchment basin” stretchs from near Munich in the west, the headwaters of the Danube near Moscow in the north, close to the border of Kazakhstan in the east, from the source o

November 11, 2009

Feature - iPlant: A new paradigm for a scientific field

Image courtesy of Asif Akbar.

iPlant is going to solve the grand challenges of plant biology. It’s a big bite to chew, but the creators of iPlant think big.
“One of the really neat things about this project is that it was funded to exist by, for, and of the community,” said Dan Stanzione, co-director of the iPlant project. “The idea was to be collaborative from square one, and not to take the ‘if you build it’ approach.”
That’s why the developers behind iPlant didn’t propose specific tools or structures. Instead, they created a process whereby the plant biology community could come together and decide what the field’s grand challenges are.
Stanzione estimates that over 100 faculty members from forty different institutions worldwide participated in the grand challenge process. “Most everything was done remotely,” said Stanzione. The tools used included telecon

October 21, 2009

Feature - Clearing the air: solving an atmospheric controversy with DEISA

The PINNACLE project tests climate models. Image courtesy UCAR

Scientists seeking to develop models for predicting weather, climate and air quality have long been confronted with the fundamental problem of how to accurately forecast the height of the atmospheric boundary layer (ABL) as it develops during daytime heating.
In an attempt to solve this controversy, a team of scientists from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, together with Imperial College London and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, initiated the PINNACLE project, using the resources of the DEISA grid of supercomputers.
The ABL is the lower layer of the atmosphere, the part which we live in. Its height grows throughout the day, from a few hundred meters in the morning to one kilometer or more in the afternoon. The ABL has a large Reynolds number (a measure of the turbulence of the system), which me

October 21, 2009

Feature - Here to help: embedded cyberinfrastructure experts

It isn’t easy designing software that can run on a cluster like Fermilab's Grid Computing Center. That’s why advanced technical support is so essential. Photo by Reidar Hahn, Fermilab Visual Media Services.

Although much of today’s scientific research relies on advanced computing, for many researchers learning how to adapt and optimize applications to run on supercomputers, grids, clouds, or clusters can be daunting.
To help newcomers, many cyberinfrastructure providers offer in-depth support tailored to fit each user’s needs. This is much more than the typical technical support that helps users write scripts to enable their jobs to run. Instead, cyberinfrastructure experts are embedded directly into a user team to provide longer-term assistance.
One example is TeraGrid User Support and Services, led by director Sergiu Sanielevici.
“The designation of a supercomputer is that it’s basicall

October 14, 2009

Feature - A new test bed for future cyberinfrastructure

Image courtesy of jaylopez at stock.xchng.

Grid, cluster, and cloud developers will have somewhere new to test their software before letting it loose on the world, thanks to a new initiative called FutureGrid.
“I think people found that it was pretty hard to test early grid software on the machines that were available, because the machines that were available didn’t like being experimented on,” said Geoffrey Fox, principle investigator for FutureGrid. “FutureGrid is trying to support the development of new applications and new system software, which are both rapidly changing.”
The FutureGrid collaboration, which will be headquartered at Indiana University, had its first all-hands meeting 2-3 October.
“We will have early users throughout the first year,” said Fox. A small number of users are already signed up, but there remains room for more on the FutureGrid roster.
“We would like

October 14, 2009

Feature - Supercomputing code helps develop new solar cells

Image courtesy of Patrick Moore.

If scientists could use simulations to zoom in on the atomic level of solar cells, the insight they gain could launch solar power into the next energy orbital.
Unfortunately, those simulations would require an exorbitant amount of computational power.
“Typically we need to simulate tens of thousands of atoms,” said Lin-Wang Wang, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “For the conventional code, if the number of atoms increases by a factor of ten, the computational load increases by a factor of a thousand.”
In fact, the same problem arises with nano-scale simulations of a wide variety of materials. That’s why Wang and his research team came up with the LS3DF code.
“We were thinking about how to improve the algorithm and have linear scaling,” said Wang. When an algorithm scales linearly, the computational cost increases at the same rate

October 7, 2009

Feature - An unexpected bounty of Near Earth Objects

Image of a near-earth object detected by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The blue, red and green streaks show the object as it moves through three of the five SDSS filters over a period of five minutes. The two white objects are distant stars. Image courtesy Stephen Kent.

While scanning through images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory researcher Stephen Kent noticed something unusual — a few extended streaks scattered among the millions of point-like stars and galaxies.
Kent realized the streaks were produced by Near Earth Objects (NEOs), asteroids or extinct comets whose orbits bring them close to Earth — close enough that they could collide. They appear as streaks because the closer an object is to Earth, the more quickly it moves across our sky. That’s why the patterns of distant stars appear unchanged over the course of our lifetimes, whereas our closest neighborin

October 7, 2009

Feature - Grid in a cloud: Processing the astronomically large

This is Westerlund 2, a young star cluster in the Milky Way which contains some of the hottest, brightest and biggest stars known. (Click on image to enlarge.) Image courtesy NASA/CXC/Univ. de Liège/Y. Naze et al

(Editor’s note: Alfonso Olias is part of a European Space Agency team working on a project that involves processing data from one billion stars — with some individual stars surveyed multiple times. Their solution? To run a grid inside a cloud. Here, he gives a first-hand account on their effort.)
We recently experimented with running a grid inside a cloud in order to process massive datasets, using test data drawn from something astronomically large: data from the Gaia project.
Gaia is a European Space Agency mission that will conduct a survey of one billion stars in our Galaxy — approximately 1% of the Milky Way galaxy. Over a five-year period, it will monitor each o

October 7, 2009


Image of the week - Space viewed through X-ray glasses

The Kepler supernova viewed through the Chandra X-ray telescope.
The different colors represent different energy X-rays. Red indicates low energy, due to the material around the star (mainly oxygen) which is heated up during the explosion. Blue represents the highest energy X-rays, which characterize the shock front of the explosion. The yellow and green parts are the different chemical elements produced as a result of the supernova. (Click on image to enlarge.) Courtesy NASA/CXC/NCSU/S.Reynolds et al.

Ever wondered what things would look like viewed through X-ray glasses? In a sense, this is what the telescope on NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory does when pointed towards the hottest parts of space. 
At right are the remnants of the supernova created when Kepler (a star named after the famous astronomer Johannes Kepler) exploded. It is one of the youngest and brightest recorded supernovae in our Mil

September 30, 2009

Feature: MANGO-NET - Helping to bring African ICT up to speed

Mangoes are cultivated in African countries such as Nigeria, MANGO-NET aims to cultivate an ICT infrastructure. Image courtesy Amr Safey, stock.xchng 

While computing technology is ubiquitous and increasingly powerful, its availability in developing nations remains limited. African universities struggle to participate in cutting-edge research because they do not have access to a widespread computer infrastructure, so their ability to conduct experiments and share results is compromised. As more science becomes “e-science,” the problem gets worse.
To help solve this, MANGO-NET (Made in Africa NGO NETwork), was launched. This project seeks to boost information and computing technology (ICT) throughout Africa, by establishing a network of schools and production labs to train ICT students to build their own computers. Because components are bought in bulk, it should reduce hardware costs, decreasing African depe

September 16, 2009

Feature - EGI, from the interim director’s view

Image courtesy EGI

The European Grid Initiative, or EGI, will be one of the focal points at the EGEE’09 conference in Barcelona. In the time since EGI was announced and the plans detailed in last September’s GridBriefing, it has appointed an interim director in July, Steven Newhouse, who has found the time to speak to iSGTW.What is EGI?Newhouse: EGI stands for the European Grid Initiative. It’s a project that wil be submitted to the European Commission (EC) for funding in November. It builds on the work of the EGI-Design Study project, which looked to the grid community to identify the best models for providing a sustainable, long-term grid infrastructure to support different scientific communities within Europe.What is the main aim of EGI?Newhouse: The aim is to coordinate a production-quality grid infrastructure for European researchers. When grids first started up, people were s

September 16, 2009

Video of the Week - Quantum Loop Gravity

This movie illustrates how excitations of geometry change as dictated by the Quantum Einstein Equations. Image courtesy Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics

Just one of the things that supercolliders such as CERN’s Large Hadron Collider and Fermilab’s Tevatron might find is evidence for something called “Quantum Gravity Loops” — which we won’t even try to explain in this short space, but which theoreticians say could explain a lot about the force known as gravity.
What could such things look like?
To try to illustrate the concept, the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics made the accompanying movie of “Quantum Spin Dynamics in Loop Quantum Gravity.” It depicts the quantum evolution of geometry in Loop Quantum Gravity, with the colors of the faces of the tetrahedrals indicating where and how much area exists at any given moment.
It’s also pretty cool to

September 9, 2009

Feature - A SLiM chance for viruses

Viruses hijack the replication machinery of cells. Image courtesy Simon Hettrick

Viruses have evolved a clever way of reproducing. They hijack the replication machinery of their host cell, which is controlled and regulated by a variety of signaling pathways, and fool them into producing copies of the virus.
Richard Edwards, head of the Bioinformatics and Molecular Evolution group at the University of Southampton, UK, is trying to better understand signaling pathways in order to develop treatments for viruses — and for diseases that operate similarly.  This is an enormous task, because to understand signaling pathways in the human body requires studying the interactions between the 20,000 or so proteins contained within the cells.
To do so, Edwards is focusing on short, linear motifs known as SLiMs. “A protein can be thought of as a sequence of amino acids, like beads on a string” explains Edwards. “[SLiMs] consist o

September 9, 2009

Feature - Calming the wakefield

A snapshot of a simulation of the wakefield generated by a particle bunch moving through a series of ILC cavities, from three different perspectives. The colors represent the magnitude of the fields, with warmer colors representing the strongest fields.

For the International Linear Collider to run at maximum performance, each of its 27,000 cavities must be designed as precisely as possible.
It is very time consuming and costly, however, to produce physical prototypes, so researchers at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory decided to use a supercomputer to create and test virtual prototypes of the cavities.
The ILC, which is in its design phase, will use superconducting cavities to accelerate electrons and their antimatter partners, positrons, to nearly the speed of light before colliding them. By studying these collisions, researchers will be able to probe more deeply into the subatomic world.
As particle bunches travel through the accelerator cavities,

September 9, 2009

Feature - What you said about iSGTW 

Image courtesy yarranz, stock.xchng

The results from our 2009 readership survey are in, thanks to all of you who participated. Your feedback will help us ensure that iSGTW continues to publish articles every week which you enjoy reading.
As with our previous surveys, the results indicate that most of our readers are male (82%), regular readers (82%) and between 30 and 40 years old. We have, however, seen a significant increase in readership from scientists/researchers, who now account for 51% of our total readership. (Just six months ago, it was 35%.)
Most readers (78%) are happy with the length of our articles, and respondents indicated that they would otherwise prefer longer articles to shorter ones. Over half of the people who supplied additional comments indicated that they wanted iSGTW to remain much as it is.
Most of you like the diversity of the subjects we cover, and articles about scientific research are now more popular

September 2, 2009

Feature – Superlinks to identify genetic culprits

A graphic map of a particularly complex family tree. The squares represent males, while the circles represent females. Individuals affected by a genetic mutation are represented with red squares or circles. Yellow lines indicate a marriage between relatives. Image courtesy of Kwanghyuk (Danny) Lee, Baylor College of Medicine.

Once scientists know which mutation causes a disease, they can apply that knowledge in their search for a cure. Likewise, doctors can recommend lifestyle changes that will alter the course of the disease. But the computer analysis used to identify these mutations would take years to complete on a single computer.
Superlink-online, a distributed system developed at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, helps researchers perform their analyses in a matter of days by distributing the computations over thousands of computers worldwide. Geneticists submit their data through the web portal with a single click

August 26, 2009

Feature - Asian computers join forces against avian flu

Computer simulation of potential drug candidate attacking avian flu virus. Image courtesy Dr. Ying-Ta Wu, Academia Sinica, Taiwan 

Dealing with deadly diseases is not just a matter of test-tubes and petri dishes. Increasingly, grid computing is being used to simulate the ways that new drugs could attack viruses, looking for a magic bullet that could cure diseases or even prevent epidemics.
Computers can simulate a large number of chemical compounds and measure their ability to fit snugly into the chemical coating of a virus, thereby blocking its ability to function properly. Launched in March 2009, this so-called “Avian Flu DC2 Refinement” is the latest attack on avian flu using grid computing power. This initiative is supported by the EUAsiaGrid community, a partnership of Asian and European research institutions co-funded by the European commission to foster new uses of grid computing for science and society