Research is the target of the grant funds, which will be used to connect scientific interests in six Great Plains states.
Crossing the Great Plains may not be as tough a task as it was in the last century, when covered wagons were the transportation mode of choice and the Pony Express delivered letters.
Nevertheless, and in spite of evolving transportation methods and information means in America this century, the geographic distance separating the Midwest from the East and West coasts remains. It has affected the flow of everything from pop culture to scientific research.
Now, officials in several states, including Kansas, are hoping to bridge the gap in science. And now they've got more than $2.5 million to do it.
A two-year grant from the National Science Foundation, with a proposed match from the six "Great Plains Network" states, has been earmarked for development of a comprehensive computer network that could strengthen the region's research.
A partnership of universities and research facilities in each of the states -- Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Oklahoma -- will develop the network. The regional focal point for the network will be operated by the Kansas Association for Networked Supercomputing Applications at KU.
The project aims to close the "virtual distance between our respective states," said Jerry Niebaum, Kansas University director of information technology services and the principal investigator for the project.
"Because the Great Plains states have small populations and large land areas," he added, "the major telecommunications companies are not competing vigorously to bring advanced services to the region."
In theory, the network would develop a north-south communications corridor for scientific collaboration.
"Historically, these states have been disadvantaged by being physically separated from major research concentrations on the East and West coasts," said Ted Kuwana, KU professor of pharmaceutical chemistry and project director for the Kansas Science and Technology Advanced Research program (K*STAR).
The network is expected to create higher-capacity access to the national computer "grid" and its supercomputing facilities.
Without a joint venture, each state could pay as much as $500,000 per year, Neibaum said. Shared access to the network should reduce annual costs for the entire area to $500,000.
The funds are a combination of a National Science Foundation grant of $1.48 million, and a $1.28 million match from the states. The proposal was born through the NSF's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) programs in the six states.
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