Nov. 10, 1997

Story by Dann Hayes, (785) 864-8855


LAWRENCE -- A partnership of universities and research facilities in six Midwestern states has received more than $2.5 million to develop a "virtual" scientific computer network to strengthen scientific research in the region.

The University of Kansas is one of the institutions involved, and Jerry Niebaum, KU director of information technology services is the principal investigator for the project.

The National Science Foundation has awarded a two-year grant of $1,479,980 to the six states, called the Great Plains Network, to be matched with $1,277,118 from the states -- North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

The proposal was initiated and funded by the NSF EPSCoR program -- Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research -- in Kansas and by the EPSCoR programs in the other six states.

The Great Plains Network aims at bridging the "virtual distance between our respective states," Niebaum said. The program seeks to develop a north-south communications corridor for scientific collaboration.

"Historically, these states have been disadvantaged by being physically separated from major research concentrations on the east and west coasts," said Ted Kuwana, regents distinguished professor of pharmaceutical chemistry and chemistry at KU and project director for the Kansas Science and Technology Advanced Research program, or K*STAR.

K*STAR is funded by EPSCoR with matching state funds through the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp.

"It is absolutely critical to the future competitiveness of the six states that they participate in national networking initiatives and continue to develop network capacity," Kuwana said.

A regional center operated by the Kansas Association for Networked Supercomputing Applications at KU will serve as the focal point for the Great Plains region and provide training in the network programs.

The network is expected to meet the needs of scientists while facing the challenges of national communications and computing initiatives by

"Because the Great Plains states have small populations and large land areas, the major telecommunications companies are not competing vigorously to bring advanced services to the region," Niebaum said. "By aggregating their purchasing power, the alliance states can develop a high-capacity, interstate backbone network for the entire region."

Without the network, each state would have to purchase access to the national grid at a cost of as much as $500,000 per state per year, or more than $3 million for the region. Shared access is expected to reduce the yearly costs to $500,000 for the entire area.

The network in Kansas is funded by the NSF with state matching funds provided by the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp. and by the Kansas Research and Education Network.


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