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WUNgrid - the provision of new resources and opportunities for collaborative research worldwide

A global strategic alliance

The Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) is an international alliance of leading higher education institutions. Building on a commitment to research quality and innovation which unites all its partners, WUN aims to develop collaborations of substance and depth in interdisciplinary areas of global significance.

Grid computing

Once the preserve of high performance computing and specialized scientific problem-solving, Grid computing is now emerging as a key technology infrastructure, even more powerful and more promising than the Internet for future research in medicine, in the social sciences and in the arts and humanities.


WUNgrid is an initiative which brings together the international research expertise at the WUN member institutions to work on a series of innovative collaborative projects which are made possible by the emerging Grid technology.

The partner institutions of the Worldwide Universities Network are international leaders in Grid and E-Science projects. They are also holders and guardians of substantial institutional archives and research collections of significance to the wider research community. WUNgrid will ensure that these important resources are available to researchers across the Worldwide Universities Network.

A user-driven Grid

The WUN member institutions began planning for a user-driven Grid in 2002. Since then, the needs of these user-communities have been paramount, shaping the development of the WUNgrid, to enable initially the sharing of data collections and the provision of a collaborative infrastructure. Key priority areas have been identified and demonstrator applications have been constructed in order to encourage the significant investment needed for future development.

This Prospectus describes the vision for WUNgrid and highlights the special features that will enable it to transform research opportunities across WUN. It also explains why WUNgrid is proposed as a WUN Grand Challenge that will benefit from support and investment from the wider research funding community.

The following pages illustrate diverse demonstrator projects which are the first developments under way as part of the WUNgrid initiative. They range from new approaches to traditional areas of academic endeavour in engineering and science to those which are drawn from newly emerging areas in the arts and social sciences.

WUNgrid is distinctive, innovative, interdisciplinary, and visionary. It is also collaborative, user-led, application-focused, and self-sustaining. It will provide new resources and opportunities for institutions and research areas which have already proved their excellence, and support high impact research and educational programmes. Most importantly, WUNgrid will accelerate the scientific and research process.

The Project and the Vision

Getting people and resources to work together

Grid computing is a natural choice for WUN's research infrastructure. WUNgrid is a Semantic Grid, ensuring that there is a focus from the outset on the description of resources to ease discovery and maximize inter-operability. WUNgrid is also a Collaborative Grid, enabling the creation and support of research collaborations.

WUNgrid currently links sites in Europe and the US. It is being extended to include sites in the Far East both through WUN partners in China, and WUN links to the Pacific Rim Applications and Middleware Assembly (PRAGMA). WUNgrid will have established credentials as a global data grid for collaborative research. With the infrastructure on which WUNgrid depends in place, each of the WUN member institutions is committed to using this resource to develop collaborative research opportunities.

WUNgrid is user-led and application-focused. It is used to build data grids for sharing data, digital libraries for publication of data, and persistent archives for preservation of data. WUN member institutions hold substantial institutional research collections and archives of significance for the wider research community.

These collections used by researchers in multiple institutions can be registered into the WUN data grid and then accessed by members of each institution.

WUNgrid stands out both for the intrinsic importance of its vision-the means to share research collections across the WUN partners; and also for its potential-the provision of new resources and opportunities for collaborative research worldwide.

The vision

The powerful combination of internationally recognized researchers at WUN member institutions, substantial research collections and the leading technology of the WUNgrid infrastructure will bring exciting and innovative collaborative research opportunities. The Vision of the WUNgrid initiative is to realize these in a wide range of disciplines.

In medicine, WUNgrid will enable us to link national registries and databases, thereby providing unique opportunities for further research into diseases such as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, research which can make a major contribution to health on a global basis.

In the physical sciences, WUNgrid will help the development of tools for pattern analysis in large data sets captured by remote sensors in order to identify in advance life threatening events such as floods, earthquakes and catastrophic storms.

In the social sciences, WUNgrid will provide an infrastructure to give researchers the ability to access data sets easily, and through collaborative research develop tools to inform policy decisions in key areas such as economic development, land usage and population growth.

In the arts and humanities, WUNgrid will support the creation of virtual environments to research and represent many dimensions of the human physical interaction over the centuries, from medieval and renaissance times up to the present.

In engineering science, WUNgrid will facilitate international collaborative research into advanced aerospace technology, bringing together leading researchers in this field in Europe and the US.

In environmental sciences, WUNgrid will provide the infrastructure which will enable research in oceanography and meteorology to be conducted on a global scale.

WUNgrid is both a Grand Challenge and an infrastructure to support other Grand Challenges. By ensuring a framework which is accessible, extensible and self-sustaining, it provides the basic mechanisms needed to support significant and meaningful academic collaborations on a global scale.


WUNgrid is fundamentally about sharing-sharing computer resources, sharing data and information resources, and sharing communications and experiential technologies.


WUNgrid is an infrastructure which enables new research that has not been possible before-and thus it gives a competitive advantage over those conducting research without such facilities in place.


The WUNgrid vision is to build ubiquitous, comprehensive digital environments that become interactive and functionally complete for research communities in terms of people, data, information, tools, and instruments, and that operate at unprecedented levels of computational, storage, and data transfer capacity.


WUNgrid involves the integration of appropriate infrastructure services from various providers and uses this platform to deliver applications to a community of users. It is a branded, organizational entity that sits on top of existing facilities, rather than a bespoke hardware investment.


WUNgrid is driven by the needs of the community it supports. The social sciences, arts, and humanities are upcoming areas for exploiting Grid computing, in which WUN will innovate and become distinctive.


WUNgrid will have a significant amplifying effect, providing revenue-gearing and growing the capabilities of WUN in high impact research, research training and educational programmes.


Modelling Cities of the future

Cities are global centres of prosperity and wealth creation; they are also areas of mass deprivation, crime, pollution and congestion. Their problems occupy geographers, historians, sociologists, economists and anthropologists. In order to analyse these problems, but also to plan features of cities in the future, the WUNgrid Cities Project aims to produce city simulation tools which reproduce key aspects of real urban environments.

This project requires the integration of data from many sources, including satellite and land use data, census demographics, economic and business activities, and data relating to transport and migration. In addition, the development of appropriate real-world simulations requires a computational intensity several orders of magnitude greater than the relatively unsophisticated gaming equivalents.

In practice, cities cannot be detached from the regional hinterlands on which they depend. Indeed, there is an important set of questions about balanced growth within and between regions. Members of the WUNgrid have a commitment to the provision of spatial decision-support tools for planners in both urban and regional environments, and also particular interests in policy analysis using demographic and social information about individuals which is not only precious but also sensitive and confidential.

International collaboration provides an important means of sharing resources in the creation of component modules, and also for sharing the outcomes from experience in a variety of policy contexts. The founding partners in this project are the Universities of Leeds and Sheffield, and Penn State University.

Seamless Access to Multiple Data sets

Ease of access to multiple data sets is becoming increasingly important to researchers, and new techniques and methods to facilitate this are being developed. In addition to holding different types of information, these databases/data sets may be geographically dispersed.

The demonstrator problem chosen for SAMD examines the asymmetric effects of interest rate changes on the UK's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is a substantive research question of genuine policy interest, based on data drawn from the National Statistics Databank hosted at the University of Manchester. It contains some 55,000 time series in 34 major data sets from the UK Office for National Statistics relating to economics, trade, employment and industry. A subset of time series related to interest rates and GDP is selected via the SAMD user interface, and then sent to an HPC engine on the Grid for analysis.

An array of first difference of the logarithm of real GDP is compared with a series of arrays of earlier changes in interest rates. The results show that changes in interest rates have greater effect on output when past growth has been high than when past growth has been normal or negative, in other words, the effect of interest rate changes on GDP varies over the business cycle.

SAMD demonstrates the successful incorporation of emerging Grid technologies into an existing social science data service. It shows how the integration of access to both data and computational resources within a single sign-on environment enables the automation of complex workflows, facilitating the scaling up of social science research applications. Finally, it shows how adding programmable interfaces (protocols) to existing services facilitates the development of third-party, value-adding client applications.

Recreating Medieval Gardens

What did medieval gardens look like and how were they used? The garden was central to the functioning of medieval society, celebrated in contemporary literature, art, and music, both for its role as producer of food and medicinal resources, but also as the formal landscape of social interaction and courtly ritual.

Although the garden is crucial to our understanding of the period, we have only minimal information on what medieval gardens actually looked like and how they were used.

Through original research, this international project will enable the visualisation of the medieval garden, enabling scholarly and educational opportunities for faculty and students at all levels. The project draws together a multidisciplinary team of specialists from the communities which study the medieval period and from those concerned with the cutting-edge computational and data techniques necessary to deliver high-quality interactive (and ultimately immersive) experiences simultaneously at sites across WUN and elsewhere. WUNgrid will provide the IT structure and management framework.

This project involves the Universities of Bristol and York in the UK and Penn State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the US.

Music Collaboratory

From digitised recordings of early twentieth-century musical performance through to new compositions using the latest software techniques, the Grid has unique potential for enhancing our knowledge and experience of music, and our ability to analyse and retrieve it.

Music in its different forms can be processed in many ways, to the great benefit of the community of users engaged in search, analysis, research, composition, and performance. WUNgrid enables a distributed community to collaborate and share both the musical content and the services for processing it.

Grid applications in music are equally as challenging as scientific applications, making particular demands on the collaborative infrastructure. Musical information comes in a rich variety of formats, from score representation through to digital recordings, and these can be converted automatically using Grid services, and thus be available for storage, cataloguing and retrieval using Grid infrastructure.

The processing power of the Grid can also be applied to the computational challenges posed by musical content. For example, algorithms can be used to extract musical features, such as a particular phrase, or sequence of notes, from a digital music archive. These features can then be used to search the archive for similar examples, or to align a recording of a piece of music with its original score in order to track and find a particular point in the recording. Perhaps the most challenging task is transcription, in which computers convert a digital recording back into a musical score. Computationally intensive in their own right, the various algorithms exemplify the sheer volume of digital content which needs to be processed.

Working with live music also presents challenges which demand Grid technologies, for capture, retrieval on demand, real-time analysis or synthesis. Live musical collaboration makes stringent demands on the collaborative services of the Grid, requiring enhanced collaborative infrastructures.

WUNgrid's storage capability, coupled with the latest collaborative technologies and processing techniques, provide a powerful and flexible distributed infrastructure for a spectrum of musical endeavours - a true music collaboratory.

Managing information and knowledge

Tim Berners-Lee and others have argued that the current web infrastructure must evolve so that content can be exchanged, shared and filtered in much more powerful ways, enabling elements in the system-human or machine-to receive the right information in the right form at the right time. We need tools and methods that enable us to aggregate and filter, present and visualize what is important about the information being generated on the Web. This is the objective of the WUN AKTive Seer project.

Information is a key resource in the twenty-first century. The World Wide Web is assuming a pre-eminent role as the global repository for much of this information and estimates of the amount of indexed information on the Web grow exponentially. The dilemma is that this superabundance of content is now generating a new kind of industrial pollutant-infosmog. A consequence of too much information is that people are rendered less capable of making decisions-not knowing what information is important or should be acted on.

This problem confronts researchers themselves. More research is being undertaken, more data collected, involving more individuals, resulting in more papers in more journals both within and between disciplines. The medium by which all of this content is disseminated and all of these individuals interact is the World Wide Web.

Such a project demands the integration of information from all kinds of sources, including publications, institutional and individual web content, funding agencies and many others on a global scale. The analysis, filtering, linking and visualisation of this content will involve continuous processing of terabytes of data. The founding partners in this project are the Universities of Southampton, and Penn State University. Both contain world leading teams researching complementary aspects of the challenge.

At Southampton the Advanced Knowledge Technologies (AKT) project has produced Web-based technologies for information management; Penn State has the CiteSeer team who have the most comprehensive system for the analysis of research publications. Members of the WUNgrid have a commitment to supporting the harvesting, aggregation and analysis of essential research content so that we can demonstrate the benefits of exploiting this veritable explosion of research content.

Applications: Bioinformatics and Medicine

Two examples illustrate the importance and potential of Grid computing in shaping and supporting the research environment in which our future knowledge will develop.


Proteomics-the analysis of life's complete complement of proteins-is the next wave of biology. It requires not only the identification and quantification of all proteins in the biosphere, but also the determination of their localization within cells, modifications, interactions, activities-and ultimately, their function.

This task will require access to massive amounts of computational power and storage capacity. Even the initial step-protein identification and function, involving protein interactions and pathways-is daunting.

Grid computing is an essential tool to support this revolution in post-genomic science, providing access to unparalleled levels of computational and data resources. Substantial amounts of work have already been undertaken in this area including, for example, the Computational Extension portal, which has led to new biological understanding through providing access to Grid computing for comparison of the 3D structure of proteins. However, individual researchers or institutions do not have access to the integrated resources necessary to bring about major increases in understanding and improvements in health outcomes.

WUN's unique strengths in this area include centres of excellence in computational science and informatics, and biological sciences and their integration. Several WUN partners are national leaders in bioinformatics and Grid computing. Progress in this area-more than any other-requires a collaborative effort and significant resources beyond the scale and scope of any single institution.

Medicine and Health

Medicine generates enormous volumes of data in the form of images and patient data. However, medical information held by different authorities, although broadly similar, is sufficiently different so that it cannot simply be aggregated or analysed using a single tool. Benefits and also the challenges are multiplied many-fold when seeking to analyse data on an international basis. This is not only because of size, but also because IT tools rather than policy instruments are essential as they are the only way in which the data will be systematised to allow "publication" in a common form. Grid is the key tool that can tap into the enormous value of these databases.

ReproGrid is a particular example of a Grid application in medicine. This links national registries to generate for the first time ever the opportunity to look at these comprehensive data sets on an aggregated basis. This will massively increase the effectiveness of strategies for one of the most important issues faced today - fertility.

The developed and developing worlds face different problems and ReproGrid focuses on the former in the first instance because of the higher data integrity. Birth-rates are declining; there are significant trends for women to delay childbirth, and increasingly finding that they are no longer as fertile. IVF cycles are increasing substantially-and this is an expensive procedure in which evidence is accumulating all the time about the most effective way to provide patients with the outcomes they desire. Only through a Grid-based approach will the high quality but heterogeneous data being generated by national registries be able to be mined most effectively to inform service development.

For further information about the Worldwide Universities Network:

For further information about WUNgrid: Email:

Worldwide Universities Network
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Telephone: +44 (0) 7775 914865
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Last updated 24 January 2005.