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NSF $1.2M Grant to Support Hanover-Plymouth-Manchester High Bandwidth Research and Education Network

Plans for high speed linkages that connect Northern New Hampshire to Manchester and extend into additional networks in Northern New England received a major boost when the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced a $1.2 million grant to support building this fiber path.  The funds will create new linkages among higher education institutions in New Hampshire, including the University of New Hampshire, Plymouth State University and Dartmouth College to help support collaborative research and education initiatives regionally, nationally, and internationally.

broadband-1Funds are being awarded through the NSF’s EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) Office’s Research Infrastructure Improvement Program Track-2 grant (RII Track-2).  The University of New Hampshire, which hosts the New Hampshire EPSCoR Office, is the grant recipient.  The University System of New Hampshire operates the current network that serves its four institutions and provides Internet and connectivity services to the Community College System of New Hampshire, and several K-12 schools, libraries, public service centers, and public health and safety organizations across the state.  These funds will, in part, help advance larger efforts to develop a regional optical network that will have significantly greater bandwidth speed and help address current and future bandwidth demands. 

“This research and corresponding network development will thrust New Hampshire and the northeast region into the international research stage with the ability to collaborate with cyber-enabled tools and resources in ways that have not yet been possible,” said Scott Valcourt, UNH director of project management and consulting services for information technology and the New Hampshire principal investigator.  “That research will have other economic development and quality of life benefits for New Hampshire citizens.”

The grant is a result of collaborative work by multiple NSF EPSCoR states that helped form the Northeast Cyberinfrastructure Consortium (NECC) in 2006.  Officials in Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Delaware initiated two related efforts to identify and promote the shared use of research facilities across the region and assess and address cyber-infrastructure needs. The NSF EPSCoR grant, combined with the National Institutes of Health Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) Supplement grant award to Dartmouth in August 2009, adds research infrastructure in a region of the country where the lack of bandwidth presents a significant barrier to tapping regional and national resources. The COBRE Supplement will extend the core research network to include Keene State College.

“Many of our leading academic centers that are constrained by the current fiber capacity will benefit, including the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space at UNH, the Northern New England Computing Grid that is led by Dartmouth, and the Plymouth State University Meteorology Program,” said Tom Franke, the USNH chief information officer.  “The fiber optic path will also continue to the University of Vermont, creating another significant opportunity for research collaboration.”

The NECC states have created NEBC (North East Bioinformatics Collaborative), a virtual organization that facilitates research projects that require data analysis for large data sets. Pilot projects on issues such as algae blooms are planned and the regional network will enable participating states to collaborate, exchange students, and work together from remote locations by taking advantage of video conferencing and other high speed services not currently available. The majority of the funds will be used for 12 fiber strands from Manchester to Plymouth to Hanover, the electronic equipment to operate the fiber network, and support for student participants in the algae bloom studies taking place in the NECC states. 

The NSF established EPSCoR to assist states that traditionally have received lower levels of federal funding. Since New Hampshire became an EPSCoR jurisdiction in 2004, more than $15 million in EPSCoR research grants have been awarded by NSF, NASA, and the departments of energy and defense. NH EPSCoR is administered by the University of New Hampshire with oversight by a 14-member committee composed of representatives from industry, government and academia.

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