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Keeping cool: Polar Grid summer interns develop collaborative space for scientists

Visitng undergrads from Elizabeth City State University are exploring the value of social networks for scientific collaboration

July 7, 2009

College undergraduate Joyce Bevins and her twin sister Jean aren't spending much time lounging by the pool this summer. The two sophomore computer science majors from Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) in North Carolina are instead spending their summer as research interns at Indiana University's Pervasive Technology Institute working on the National Science Foundation (NSF) Polar Grid project. The internships, which included a stipend and living expenses, are supported by an NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) supplemental award to the Polar Grid project. Polar Grid is a collaborative project between IU, ECSU and the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets at University of Kansas, which is working to develop an advanced computational grid to support research on earth's shrinking polar ice caps.

Joyce and Jean Bevins 

"I had never imagined computer science being used this way," said Joyce. "I always imagined programming simple Web sites and other applications that were familiar to me. I never understood how much computer science is used to support environmental and scientific research. It makes me feel part of something bigger—something really important." 

Joyce and Jean are working together under the guidance of Polar Grid co-principal investigator, Dr. Marlon Pierce to create a social networking application for sharing the processed data sets for Polar Grid. To accomplish this task, they are using Facebook Application Programming Interface (API). The Facebook API gives access to online communities, which provide a number of ways for users to interact, visualize, share, and view data while also maintaining personal user profiles.  Specifically, the pair are striving to demonstrate the integration of standalone Polar Grid Web applications (PHP applications developed by other Polar Grid team members) with Facebook's social networking tools.

"I helped them learn to build their own social networking applications and a little about PHP development and Apache Web servers," said Pierce.  "The goal is for them to document this process and take it back to share with others at ECSU who are developing Polar Grid Web applications. It's great experience for them, both in basic programming, and also  documenting and sharing computational work with others."

According to Jean Bevins, studying computer science has sometimes been a challenge for her and her sister.  "We didn't have computing or programming classes in high-school like some students do," said Jean. "We both have a strong interest in technology, but we're learning a lot of this for the first time in college. Experiences like this internship, and the personal attention we receive from our professors and mentors at ECSU, have really helped us become more confident and stay motivated and excited about computer science."

To learn more about Polar Grid, visit