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Eclipse Creates Working Group for Open Source Science Research Software

The Eclipse Foundation's annual Release Train will be in the spotlight later this week, but first a bit of that metaphorical illumination should fall on a new Foundation project. Announced on Monday, the newly organized Eclipse Science Working Group (SWG) is being described as "a global collaboration for scientific software." It aims to bring together groups from academia, industry and government to create open software that can be used in basic scientific research.

Actually, a better word here is "reused." As the Foundation's executive director Mike Milinkovich explained, the SWG is about freeing scientific researchers from the need to build so much software from scratch.

"There's a lack of reusable software components for basic scientific research," Milinkovich told ADTmag. "And yet more and more science projects are deeply dependent on software. The current model seems to be, they get a grant and then immediately start developing single-purpose software from the ground up. The goal of this new group is to create a set of tools and frameworks -- complete building blocks, really -- to help accelerate scientific research."

The SWG's founding steering committee includes Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Diamond Light Source in Oxfordshire, UK; and IBM. The SWG website lists 14 total members as of this writing, including Clemson University, Uppsala Universitet, The Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, Marintek, Lablicate, Kichwa Coders, Tech Advantage, and IFP Energies Nouvells.

The working group was originally proposed German programmer Philip Wenig, who works at Lablicate. Wenig, who is the developer of OpenChrom, an open source software tool for the mass spectrometric analysis of chromatographic data, brought the results of an inventory he had done of Eclipse-based scientific research tools, Milinkovich explained.

"It showed just how many groups were reinventing the wheel," Milinkovich said. "He argued that we could do better if we worked together, and a number of people agreed with him."

The current members of the working group will be collaborating on a range of open source projects focused on big-brain science software, such as tools for plotting and visualizing 1D, 2D and 3D data, and managing data for structured and unstructured grids: modeling and simulation software for physical and social sciences, such as physics, chemistry, biology, sociology, and psychology, among others; standard descriptions and definitions for scientific data; and infrastructure software to support scientific computing (e.g.: job launching and monitoring, parallel debugging, and remote project management).

"These are the kind of things that scientists are working with everyday," Milinkovich said. "We think we've assembled a visionary set of organizations here that are focused on the value they can bring to scientific research by collaborating on the basic software building blocks to make this research more productive."

The two initial SWG open source projects are based on code contributions from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Diamond Light Source. The first is the Eclipse Integrated Computational Environment (ICE), which is a platform for modeling and simulation projects in science and engineering. The aim of the project is to provides a standard set of tools that allow scientists to set up the input model, launch a simulation job, analyze the results, and manage the input and output data. The code is based on technology created at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to develop a computational environment for modeling and simulation of nuclear reactors.

The second is the Eclipse DawnSci project, which defines Java interfaces for data description, plotting and plot tools, and data slicing and file loading. The project aims to provide interoperability of algorithms between different scientific projects. It's based on a code contribution by Diamond Light Source.

Keep in mind that these aren't Eclipse people, but rather experts who are bringing their special expertise to the platform.

"This is not Eclipse tool vendors looking for a way to approach science," Milinkovich said. "These are visionary scientific organizations realizing that they can use Eclipse to solve a problem."

Posted by John K. Waters on 06/24/2014 at 10:58 AM


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