2011 Campus Technology Innovators | IT Infrastructure and Systems

Purdue University

HUBzero is a unique, open source platform for creating websites that provide instant access to simulation tools and computational resources--a veritable Swiss Army knife of web tools for research collaboration.

Project: HUBzero Platform for Scientific Collaboration

Project lead: Michael McLennan, senior research scientist

Vendors/technologies used:
Developed in-house

Researchers at Purdue University (IN) have developed a veritable Swiss Army knife of web tools for research collaboration. Known as HUBzero, it's a unique, open source platform for creating websites that connect research communities and provide instant access to simulation tools and computational resources. Through HUBzero sites, researchers can access gateways to the resources and tools they need--through a familiar browser interface.

"We've created a cyberinfrastructure solution that can be used out of the box for research, education, and collaboration," explains Michael McLennan, senior research scientist and director of the HUBzero Platform for Scientific Collaboration. "It's not a black box, but rather an open source platform that can be extended and customized to support many different fields."

The HUBzero software is based on the system behind nanoHUB.org, a project launched in 2002 with funding from the National Science Foundation and Purdue University that is aimed at making collaboration and computational tools for the nanosciences more readily available. The overwhelming popularity of nanoHUB.org--it now has more than 170,000 users worldwide--made it clear to researchers at Purdue that the basic nanoHUB.org platform could be leveraged to serve many other research communities. Developers pulled out the underlying technology, broadened its features to make the system applicable to a wider range of disciplines, and released an open source version of the resulting HUBzero software in 2010.

Each HUBzero site offers its community easy, centralized access to relevant tools. "HUBzero provides the framework for group collaboration, databases, repositories, simulation/modeling, and high-performance computing," McLennan notes. "Each hub is a one-stop shop for its community." HUBzero now supports more than 30 research communities, from biomedical modeling to electric vehicles. Other hubs have been built around topics such as cancer care, the spread of pollutants in the environment, volcanoes, and engineering earthquake-resistant buildings and bridges.

HUBzero combines the best of web 2.0 functionality with middleware that makes it possible to incorporate grid, scientific computing, and supercomputing resources. Though the platform is used to deploy very high-end computing tools, incorporating them can be as easy as posting a YouTube video. Built-in social networking functions lend a familiar Facebook-like feel to professional communications. And HUBzero's Rappture toolkit helps turn research codes--written in C/C++, Fortran, Java, MATLAB, and other languages--into graphical, web-enabled applications.

While it's possible to cobble some of this functionality together with commercial web software, HUBzero integrates everything in a single package. Add the access to research tools plus functions like tracking the use of tools (useful for quantifying the impact of a project) and citation tracking, and you have something quite different--and powerful. In addition, as an outreach effort, Purdue offers hub-building and hub-hosting services.

HUBzero is now supported by a consortium of Purdue, Indiana University, Clemson University (SC), and the University of Wisconsin. Researchers at Rice University (TX), the State University of New York system, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Notre Dame (IN) are using hubs. And HUBzero is rapidly gaining worldwide acceptance: In 2010, the first annual HUBbub conference drew attendees from around the globe.

About the Author

Meg Lloyd is a Northern California-based freelance writer.

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