Georgia Tech Plays Role in NSF’s Next Generation of Research Cyberinfrastructure Ecosystems

April 21, 2022

The Georgia Institute of Technology is among a collaborative team of institutions awarded a $5 million OpenCI grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help support the Advanced Cyberinfrastructure Coordination Ecosystem Services and Support (ACCESS) program. ACCESS is the NSF’s next generation research cyberinfrastructure support mechanism to serve the evolving needs of the scientific community nationwide. Cyberinfrastructure – highly connected high-performance computing systems that support advanced data acquisition, storage, and, management – is critical for information sharing and research collaboration.

Lizanne DeStefano, executive director of the Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing (CEISMC), is one of the co-principal investigators of this five-year award that will support the collective and coordinated efforts of four other NSF grants awarded to various institutions to address resource allocations, training, operations, and measurement services of the ACCESS program.

“With cyberinfrastructure for academic research computing continuously becoming more sophisticated, it is imperative that we can efficiently connect researchers with the data, technologies, and expertise available to help bring their innovative ideas to fruition,” said DeStefano, also professor of psychology. “Georgia Tech is part of the ACCESS Coordination Office in which our team is responsible for working with all ACCESS awardees to ensure that processes are coordinated, redundancies are reduced, and overall assist them in managing their own evaluation systems, including ours.” 

The OpenCI team, which is being led by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in partnership with CEISMC and the San Diego Supercomputing Center at UC San Diego, will provide tools and support services for the top-level facilitation of governance and communications among the ACCESS awardees and with the public.

These activities include managing the advisory board that is made up of members from the four other projects; assisting in governance and conflict resolution; establishing a system for collective decision-making, and other coordinated community-building activities. The purpose of the OpenCI team is to act as a facilitator to amplify the effect of each ACCESS awardee’s efforts.

“Regularly collecting data, sharing information, and discussing the evidence as a collective is going to be critical to the success of the ACCESS program and all of its components,” said DeStefano. “Since evaluation plays a key role in this process, I hope it will become an important tool for this program to deliver services seamlessly as all the ACCESS service tracks’ interactions determine the type of experience an individual researcher will have.”

ACCESS is a follow-up to NSF’s Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE), a virtual organization created in 2011 that integrates and coordinates the sharing of advanced computing resources, data, and expertise with researchers nationally to support science and engineering projects that may not have been possible without the shared resources. For example, researchers at the University of California were able to utilize XSEDE allocations in order to run specific simulations of a pollutant molecule, which led to results with possible implications for the climate, the environment, and human health.  

DeStefano, who has been involved in evaluating cyberinfrastructures for the last 20 years, served as the external evaluator of XSEDE. With her specialty in the evaluation of research organizations, DeStefano described XSEDE operations as a top-down model, one NSF awardee with 19 subcontract recipients which served as a foundation for a national computing ecosystem. Now ACCESS is taking a more peer-driven approach for collaboration and coordination with the five NSF awards, addressing the salient points of the endeavor.   

“XSEDE represented the centralized and coordinated way of allocating research computing services internally which worked well for the last decade,” she said. “Now this external approach of coordinating efforts through a distributed model will provide a new means of establishing shared metrics to better define our effectiveness individually and collectively to guide us forward for maximum impact.”   

Writer: Joëlle Walls

Media Relations Contact: Georgia Parmelee |