SIUE physics professor receives NSF Award

Dr. Edward Ackad of the Physics Department has received a nsf2 Award in tandem with the Information Technology Services (ITS).

Although Dr. Ackad is working on the grant, the NSF Award is not being used fund Dr. Ackad’s personal research. The award itself is being used to build Internet infrastructure. Internet 2 is a high-speed link between institutions, such as research facilities and universities. Dr. Ackad explained Internet 2 as, “an infrastructure where mostly institutions are connected, so it’s a much higher connection to this supra Internet; it’s another connection to the Internet.”

He further explained it as being similar to a highway, saying universities that both use Internet 2 can connect with each other at high speeds. Conversely in the case of one university having Internet 2 and the other not, the university with Internet 2 has to get off of the infrastructure to connect to the university without it.

Internet 2 is a lucrative resource for researchers like Dr. Ackad, whose work relies on large scale computations. This infrastructure will primarily be used by professors and researchers in the science, math, and engineering disciplines, though it has use in the digital humanities as well. When it comes to the varying digital humanities, there will be some need for computing on these super computers, as well as a need for a tech-savvy staff for those without the proper know-how.

Dr. Ackad’s role in this project is twofold. He helped receive the award by demonstrating to the largest granting federal agency how science will be driven forward. Additionally, he will help instruct other departments on how to use this newly available resource, a job he says is usually left to Ph. D graduate students. Dr. Ackad taking lead on the instructive side will save much time, he says.

A challenge with this project is, although there is a growing need for Internet 2 and its facilities, like XSEDE, the current need is moderate. He explains that many researchers require time with the infrastructure suddenly, rather than constantly, so his primary focus is to learn how researchers can connect, get what they need or a bit more, and disconnect. The typical infrastructure, he explains, is designed for researchers who need enormous amounts of time with a super computer, but his goal is to help researchers utilize the infrastructure in a manner more tailored to their needs.

Dr. Ackad’s personal research is centered on nanophotonics and computational biophysics. In explaining his research, Dr. Ackad says, “Nanophotonics looks at the interaction of nanoscopic-sized matter, so a 1,000 times smaller than microscropic, and how it interacts with very intense light pulses. It’s looking at light-matter interactions, but it’s doing so at a very small scale of matter.”

He explains the fascinating nature of this topic in saying, “If you have a lot of matter and you put energy into it, it can dissipate in many different ways, but if you have a very small amount of matter and it gets eradiated, there’s nowhere else the energy can go, so all of the energy that goes in has to stay there. So if you tap a solid, even though there’s a huge amount of energy when you tap a solid, that energy dissipates throughout the entire solid very rapidly, so there’s no damage. If this were a very small thing and you do the same amount of energy to it, you could break it. How matter interacts with this very intense amount of light, we study computationally to understand when do the effects of solid come in? How many atoms do you need to make a solid?”

In explaining biophysics, Dr. Ackad says, “The other work in biophysics, there what we do is model proteins and see how they behave, because we can’t watch a protein in a Petri dish, because it’s too small. So we model it on a computer and see how it behaves. By looking at that behavior, we hope we can predict different characteristics of those proteins.”

This NSF grant will provide SIUE with a new and valuable research tool that will open up new opportunities for SIUE as a research institution and will no doubt be an invaluable utility.

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