A unique summer program that allows undergraduate students to do hands-on research in an international setting is expanding in 2005 from three to five host countries. As many as 18 students — twice as many as last year — will be selected to work on a wide variety of research projects related to the global cyberinfrastructure. They will spend eight or nine weeks at leading research institutions in Australia, Japan, Taiwan, China and Thailand. The latter two sites were added after the successful launch of the Pacific Rim Undergraduate Experiences (PRIME) program in 2004.
UCSD held an orientation meeting last week to brief students from across the campus on the opportunities available for next summer in Asia and Australia. Roughly two dozen undergraduates turned out to hear from PRIME's principal investigators, faculty mentors, coordinators, and five of the nine students who participated in the program's inaugural internships. One alumnus of the first class, Brandon Smith, has already graduated, and is now working at Amazon.com.
“Our goal is to offer students an international research and cultural experience to better prepare them for the global workplace of the 21st century,” said Gabriele Wienhausen, provost of UCSD's Sixth College, PRIME principal investigator, and leader of the Education layer of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Cal-(IT)2) at UCSD. “Students come away from these experiences with a much better cultural understanding of the region, and they forge friendships that will lead to stronger collaborations between participating institutions on both sides of the Pacific for years to come.”
PRIME was launched in June 2004 with a $156,000, three-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the program secured additional funding from Cal-(IT)2 and the Geosciences Network, which is based at UCSD. Organizational participants in PRIME include Sixth College, UCSD's Academic Internship Program (AIP), and the Pacific Rim Application and Grid Middleware Assembly (PRAGMA).
The program is open to all UCSD undergraduates with an interest in using the new information technology tools known as cyberinfrastructure to advance a science or engineering project, or to develop new tools for the benefit of science and engineering.
Applicants are required to work with a host mentor at UCSD on defining a summer research project, and then get buy-in from one of the mentors at a host institution. “Both mentors are expected to partner with the student at every stage of the project development process,” said Linda Feldman, director of AIP. “The creation of strong mentor-to-mentor connections takes several conversations, and it's a great way to start the process of building collaborative partnerships between the two institutions. And the students who went last year grew tremendously in their ability to interact with other cultures and other researchers.”
The host institutions participating in last year's program are returning in 2005. They include the Cybermedia Center at Osaka University; the National Center for High-Performance Computing in Hsinchu, Taiwan; and Australia's Monash University in Melbourne. Two additional sites will host UCSD interns: the Computer Network Information Center, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in Beijing; and Prince of Songkla University in Hat-Yai, Thailand.
In 2004, all nine of the undergraduate researchers who went to Asia and Australia were enrolled in the Jacobs School of Engineering. But at the orientation session, PRIME officials underscored that the research opportunities are open to all students at UCSD who are interested in some form of research related to cyberinfrastructure. “Biology or chemistry majors might be ideal to work on computational chemistry, cardiac physiology or systems biology,” said PRIME co-PI Peter Arzberger, director of UCSD's Life Sciences Intiative. “And students in visual arts or earth sciences could apply to work on projects in environmental sensing or visualization. We expect a certain familiarity with the basics of information technology, but interested student applicants are welcomed from any department.”
Indeed, the 2005 program offers a growing number of topic areas in which students can work. At the Japanese host site, undergraduates can delve into bioinformatics, telescience, or HDTV research. In Taiwan they can work on projects ranging from Grid computing and earthquake engineering to the 'ecogrid'. In Australia, interns can work on computational chemistry, geosciences or bioengineering, while students going to Thailand will work in bioengineering. Undergrads spending the summer in China will be able to design their research experience to fit one of a number of topic areas including data grids, bioinformatics, astronomy or geosciences.
“This is a dynamic program, changing with each new student and mentor,” Wienhausen told attendees at the orientation meeting. “We are here to help you make this the most positive experience of your university careers, so feel free to contact us at any time.”