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NSF-funded project at UVA aims to store and protect COVID-19 research data

The National Science Foundation has awarded the University of Virginia a $1.2 million expansion of an earlier grant to develop a secure, high-performance computing system for research. The new funds are intended to support nationwide adoption of the system for COVID-19 research.

The idea behind the system is to deal with two simultaneous priorities: a growing need for high-performance computing capability for sensitive research data, coupled with expanding regulations that protecting that data. The costly infrastructure required to meet those needs is out of reach for many universities, so UVA plans to fill that void.

The earlier grant, awarded in In 2019, established  the Virginia Assuring Controls Compliance of Research Data, or Virginia ACCORD. That program offers access to data storage and computational capabilities that are HIPAA-compliant for researchers who might otherwise not have access through their institutions. That access became even more important in 2020, as researchers across all fields of science and engineering began shifting their work into critical COVID-19 projects that would potentially intersect with protected data.

“UVA’s leadership in building the ACCORD cyberinfrastructure will give researchers at universities across our nation access to the rich, secure data they need for critical COVID-19 research,” said Melur K. (Ram) Ramasubramanian, vice president for research at UVA.

The expanded effort is being led by Ronald R. Hutchins, vice president for information technology at UVA, and Scott Bevins, associate provost for information services and chief information officer at UVA-Wise. The team includes researchers from Georgia Tech, Indiana University, Stanford University and University of Utah.

Tho H. Nguyen, a senior research program officer in UVA Engineering’s Department of Computer Science who wrote the proposal for the grant expansion, said the importance of ACCORD-COVID for supporting the research needed to understand the effects of the virus cannot be overstated. “Any crisis brings a surge of research breakthroughs at the beginning, and these are generally driven by large groups answering large questions,” he said. “Those efforts raise thousands of new questions that need to be answered at the community level for a granular understanding of the problem.” Researchers often describe this as the “long tail” of science.

“The ACCORD-COVID infrastructure will provide a tremendous amount of support to the researchers immersed in that ‘long tail’ of science,” Nguyen said.

The high-performance computing resources will be available to all COVID-19 research projects funded by the NSF. Researchers at other institutions will have independent access to the system and maintain full control over their data.

Source: UVA Today

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