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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Idaho

UI supersizes Internet access with ‘fat pipeline’

MOSCOW, Idaho – The University of Idaho has expanded its Internet “pipeline” by more than 50 times, increasing the possibilities for research and collaboration with other schools and agencies, UI officials said Monday.

The increased bandwidth makes it possible for researchers to download lots of data quickly and collaborate in real time with other scientists around the globe, officials said. It makes the UI part of a network set up through a federal grant to expand high-tech communications and biomedical research in Western states. And it should make it faster for a student in the dorm to download the latest song.

“It’s really going to lift everyone up at this university,” said Mike Laskowski, a UI biology professor who helped lead the effort.

The new connection arose from UI’s participation in a National Institutes of Health grant for $10 million over several years to connect research universities in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming and other states. Idaho’s portion of that was just under $1 million and went toward establishing the school’s new fiber-optic network. The school also spent $700,000 to improve its Internet infrastructure on campus.

The new connection can transmit 2.4 gigabits per second – 55.6 times more than the previous connection, officials said.

“I’m just worried that means I’m going to get 55.6 times more e-mails,” said UI President Tim White at an announcement about the new connection Monday on campus.

White said the new technology was crucial to move UI forward in research, by giving faculty members and students access to more information and by potentially attracting other researchers. As fields like biomedicine and genomics grow, they produce more and more information, and scientists without access can’t compete.

“Think of plumbing,” said James Foster, a UI professor who specializes in biomedical information. “It’s not the most wonderful, sexy thing in the world, but where would you be without it?”

But officials emphasized that technology is moving fast and that soon the UI’s new “fat pipeline” for information won’t seem so large after all. Some major research universities already have bigger ones.

“This is a beginning, rather than an endpoint,” said Louis Fox, vice provost at the University of Washington.

For one thing, while UI could expand access to its network to other Idaho schools, those colleges have a ways to go to catch up to the bandwidth needed, officials said.

“The next step is for us to figure out how to connect the rest of the state,” Laskowski said.

The network of schools includes Montana State University, the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, the University of Nevada, Reno, and others. Neither Washington State nor Eastern Washington University is part of the network, known as the Lariat Project.

Pacific Northwest Gigapop, a not-for-profit organization, is providing the connection.

John Oldow, a professor of geosciences, gave a presentation at Monday’s announcement about the increasingly accurate three-dimensional mapping scientists use to study earthquakes and plate tectonics. The maps, based on satellite photos, have grown more and more detailed in recent years, he said.

“We’re actually imaging the sagebrush in this area,” he said, referring to one map in his presentation.

But such detail means the maps are also big in terms of total information – they take up a lot of room to store and transmit. With the new connection, Oldow can have access to that information, as well as sharing his research more easily with colleagues around the country.

“All this information is available,” Oldow said. “It’s all been downloaded. It took a lot of time before, and it takes less time now.”

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