With Cloud Computing, the Mathematics of Evolution May Get Easier to Learn





 An innovative, educational computing platform developed by University at Buffalo faculty members and hosted by the cloud (remote, high-capacity, scalable servers) is helping UB students understand parts of evolutionary biology on an entirely new level. Soon, high-school and middle-school students will benefit from the same tool as well.developed by UB faculty members with a $250,000 National Science Foundation grant, takes advantage of cloud computing, which allows programs to run on remote servers instead of through departmental or institutional servers. That feature allows resource-intensive programs to serve many users regardless of their physical location without sacrificing speed or quality of service.

"The cloud serves as a way to distribute resources for free without limits on how many people can access it and with no regard to what kind of computer you are downloading to," says Jessica Poulin, PhD, research assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences, who developed Pop! World with principal investigator Bina Ramamurthy, PhD, research associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Katharina Dittmar, PhD, assistant professor of biological sciences. "Everybody can get there."

UB faculty members designed Pop! World because they wanted to get college students more excited about population genetics; they also wanted to maintain the university's unique freshman lab requirements at a time when resources are growing more scarce.

UB is one of the few universities in the U.S. that encourages freshmen interested in biology to begin experiencing labs during their first semester on campus.

"We put our freshmen right into labs because students who might otherwise be lost from the major are captivated when they get to do science," Poulin says. "When you sit in a lecture hall with 400 people and someone is talking about flatworms, what do you care? Despite the logistical difficulties, and the intense demands on staff time, we think that getting freshmen into labs is one of our department's great strengths. We didn't want to discontinue it."

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