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National Science Foundation
A Grand Convergence
Essential, Not Optional
Discovery, Learning and Leadership
Classroom Resources
Image showing three shake tables at the University of Nevada, Reno. Click for larger image.

Three shake tables at the University of Nevada, Reno, were used to replicate the 1940 El Centro, Calif., "Imperial Valley" earthquake, which measured 7.1 on the Richter scale. A large beam, representing a model bridge, is mounted across the tables, which are shaken by large piston arms. The beam wobbled in response to the initial temblor and continued to shake for the duration of the quake. The bridge structure suffered no visible damage, but data from sensors was captured and transmitted to the NEESgrid infrastructure.

Credit: David Gehrig, NCSA

Discovery, Learning and Leadership

A History of Leadership

Cyberinfrastructure image for sidebar. Click for larger image. The following accounts provide more detail on NSF's history of leadership in computing and the programs that have contributed to existing and emerging cyberinfrastructure activities.

From Supercomputing to the TeraGrid: From the 1960s to today, NSF has supported the academic community with access to the highest-performance computing resources available.

A Brief History of NSF and the Internet: The Internet that we take for granted arose from a series of computer networking efforts funded by NSF and other agencies.

Cyberinfrastructure image for sidebar. Click for larger image. Networking for Tomorrow: NSF has long been a leader in cutting-edge network technologies and promotes activities to explore and engineer the Internet of the future.

Grand Challenges for Information Technology: As information technology and the Internet matured in the 1990s, NSF began the first of several initiatives to apply information technology to the most challenging research problems around.

Digital Libraries-Access to Human Knowledge: Digital libraries allow scientists, teachers, students and even software applications to access, explore, search and interact with vast data collections.

Cyberinfrastructure image for sidebar. Click for larger image. NMI in the Middle: Middleware is the "plug-and-play" interface for the many types of cyberinfrastructure resources, and the NSF Middleware Initiative is building a flexible and reliable middleware foundation.

Cyberinfrastructure activities are the most recent developments in NSF's long history of leadership in providing advanced information technologies for the U.S. academic community.

NSF supported campus computing centers in the 1960s and established national supercomputer centers in the 1980s. In parallel, NSF established NSFnet in the mid-1980s, which evolved into today's commercial Internet; and in the 1990s, helped connect hundreds of institutions to advanced research networks. Also in the late 1990s, NSF established two Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (PACI).

"Today's cyberinfrastructure exists thanks in part to the successful efforts of the PACI program," said Peter Freeman, head of NSF's Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate. "Through many activities, the two partnerships have nurtured and supported the growing demand by the scientific community for cyberinfrastructure."

PACI participants established the Extensible Terascale Facility (ETF), commonly called the TeraGrid, and planted the seeds of many discipline-specific cyberinfrastructure projects, supported by NSF and other agencies. Other NSF programs, including the Digital Libraries Initiative, the NSF Middleware Initiative and the Information Technology Research priority area also played key roles. NSF also has a history of collaboration with other federal agencies -- including NASA, the Department of Energy and others -- on cyberinfrastructure activities ranging from the Digital Libraries initiative to ETF to the Earth Systems Modeling Framework.

NSF's fiscal year 2005 budget request calls for $400 million for cyberinfrastructure-related activities across the foundation. In its recent reorganization, the CISE directorate created the Division of Shared Cyberinfrastructure to focus on such capabilities for a wide spectrum of science and engineering activities.

The National Center for Supercomputing Applications and the San Diego Supercomputer Center, the lead centers for the PACI partnerships, will continue to provide high-end computing resources and related services to the national community, at least through 2007. The ETF—on track to be commissioned in October 2004—will be widely shared for research on subjects ranging from galaxy formation to pollution cleanup through 2009.

NSF is continuing to solicit advice and input from the academic community on management of the emerging cyberinfrastructure and to inform NSF's development of future cyberinfrastructure-enhancing competitions. Internally, NSF has convened a cyberinfrastructure working group to explore challenges and opportunities in all science and engineering fields.

"NSF's goal is to ensure the development of a national cyberinfrastructure that is second to none," Freeman said. "The resulting widely-distributed, shared cyberinfrastructure will advance discovery, learning and innovation across the science and engineering enterprise."

Cyberinfrastructure A Special Report