IBM grant for teaching ecological modeling and computation
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Professor Annette Ostling has been awarded an IBM Equipment Grant for her project "A teaching initiative in ecological modeling and computation, and the development of a new tool for community ecology research" through the Unit IT Steering Committee at the University of Michigan.
According to the project abstract, “A deep understanding of modern biology requires the ability to think in terms of and analyze mathematical models. But simple models that can be approached with pencil and paper will simply not suffice, due to the great deal of complexity in the natural world. Hence biologists are increasingly relying on computation to gain insight into the systems in which they work. Furthermore, many of the job opportunities in modern biology require quantitative skills, including computation. However, undergraduate and beginning graduate biology education has not kept pace with this demand. A change is needed.”
Ostling plans to develop a course devoted to teaching students ecological modeling and computation, beginning in the winter 2012 semester. She will teach students how to use computing clusters in general and specifically, the ones on U-M’s campus. The hardware will be added to the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts Performance Computing Cluster, located at the Michigan Academic Computing Center (MACC).
“Due to the complexity of ecological models, it is not uncommon that researchers encounter computational limitations to carrying out the analyses they require,” said Ostling. “Teaching students to use the computing clusters will free them from these limitations as much as possible.”
Ostling’s request was fully funded with five computing nodes and 120 GB RAM at a cost of over $28,000. “The Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology is becoming known for a concentration of skilled faculty working on ecological theory, modeling and computation. This course will match that existing research strength with an educational initiative to provide quantitative training to undergraduates in biology at U-M and to all graduate students in our program.
The cluster will also be used by Ostling in her research on the development of neutral theory as a tool for gaining inference on the influence of niches in ecological communities, which was also recently funded by the NSF's Advancing Theory in Biology program.
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