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Rapid portlets are a hit with chemists

Portlets make inaccessible technology accessible, because they run from within a browser—a familiar interface for even the most technophobic researcher. To encourage the use of portlets, it is necessary for them to be easy to develop. This led OMII-UK to fund Rapid, an easy-to-use portlet development tool.

Chemists from the Universities of Edinburgh and St. Andrews (EaStCHEM) have recently used the software to create portlets that have allowed access to computational- chemistry software by over 140 students.

EaStCHEM use computational- chemistry software, such as Gaussian 03, for research and teaching activities. However, technological barriers prevented many chemists from using the software. To overcome these barriers, the Rapid project showed EaStCHEM how to create portlets with Rapid. This training led to one chemist creating four portlets without the help of a software developer.

One of the four portlets is now used to teach over 140 chemistry students. This user-friendly portlet hides the complexity of the tutorial (such as, command line options, authentication protocols and job submission commands) from the student, so that they can concentrate on learning the software. Importantly, the only complexity that isn’t hidden, is the code needed to learn how to drive the computational-chemistry software. Learning this code is a skill that the students will need throughout their careers as chemists.

Portlets do not just make applications more user friendly. Future work with EaStCHEM will make more resources available to the chemists, such as those supplied by the National Grid Service. This will overcome difficulties in securing time on the resources available within the universities and will harness more computational power for the chemists.

Elsewhere, Rapid is being used in a wide range of areas, including brain imaging, seismology, and fire safety engineering.

Rapid is being used to design, build and deliver a portal to help brain imaging experts perform tasks using tools developed by the SFC Brain Imaging Research Centre.

Likewise, the Rapid Portals for Seismological Waveform Data project aims to encourage the seismology community to use an application that analyses seismic waveform data.

Potential users tend to be put off by using the waveform application because they are daunted by the prospect of installing and even understanding the application. They also tend to worry about the difficulty in transporting large amounts of data needed for analysis, and how to visualise the results.

Self-contained web portlets will be directly embedded in the community gateway and link to the data available in the Orfeus Data Center; the primary European centre for this kind of data. All the data and computing will be managed through Rapid, and the results presented via an existing web portal.

The development tool is also being used in the Firegrid project at the University of Edinburgh. FireGrid aims to establish a cross-disciplinary collaborative community to pursue fundamental research for developing real time emergency response systems, using the Grid, beginning with fire emergencies.

By Simon Hettrick and Gillian Law (taken from NeSC Newsletter, August 2009)

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