NSF Offers $1 Million Grant to Create the Taylor Geospatial Institute Regional AI Learning System

ST. LOUIS - A $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation will create the Taylor Geospatial Institute Regional AI Learning System.

Launched in April 2022 and led by Saint Louis University, the Taylor Geospatial Institute brings together eight Midwestern universities and research centers to harness innovation in geospatial science. 

The three-year grant, "Regional Computing: Taylor Geospatial Institute Regional AI Learning System," was awarded to William TC Kramer, Ph.D., research professor of computer science and executive director of the New Frontiers Initiative, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; Shaowen Wang, Ph.D., professor and department head of geography & geographic information science and founding director of the CyberGIS Center for Advanced Digital and Spatial Studies, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; and Vasit Sagan, Ph.D., associate professor of geospatial science at Saint Louis University and acting director of TGI. 

The high-performance computing and data analysis system, known as TGI RAILS, will be housed at the National Petascale Computing Facility at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

"Illinois has a 30,000 square-foot facility that is uniquely set up to securely house this computing equipment and make it easily available to TGI researchers and educators," Kramer said. "It made sense to house it here. This system will deliver gold-star research computing for TGI's member institutions." 

The grant comes through NSF's Advanced Cyberinfrastructure Coordination Ecosystem: Services and Support (ACCESS) program. ACCESS aims to improve the accessibility of national cyberinfrastructure centers and increase integration with systems and research communities on campuses across the nation. 

The TGI consortium includes SLU, Illinois, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Harris-Stowe State University, Missouri University of Science & Technology, University of Missouri-Columbia, University of Missouri-St. Louis, and Washington University in St. Louis. Collectively, these institutions encompass more than 5,000 faculty and 100,000 students.

TGI RAILS will provide critical, shared computing infrastructure for the research and educational work of the collaboration. The grant adds a computational resource that will reduce the time to insight for challenging research investigations by providing a modern, highly performant ecosystem. It will also provide an effective and cohesive state-of-the-art computation and data analysis platform to support advanced research as well as provide staff, researchers, and students with the latest AI and data analytics technologies.

"We are harnessing the power of partnerships here - the creation of TGI made this grant possible," Sagan said. "Staffed by TGI, this facility will provide much-needed computing capabilities to our researchers, demonstrating TGI's deep commitment to building partnerships."

The systems will also prepare future researchers and students with the skills to design experiments that address research questions and communicate their findings. 

"With this grant, we are able to use the existing expertise of our consortium members to build a system available to all TGI researchers," Sagan said. 

RAILS will allow TGI staff, students and researchers to expand beyond a single computer to become more skilled with advanced computing methods, thereby potentially enabling them to propose projects that would use national resources and other ACCESS systems. 

"This allows us to democratize access to advanced cyberinfrastructure, cyber-based geospatial information systems (cyberGIS), and high-performance computing," Wang said. "We can take a high-end computing system and make it easily and widely accessible for diverse communities and users to harness its tremendous power."

National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; and to secure the national defense. With an annual budget of $8.8 billion, the NSF is the funding source for approximately 27% of the total federal budget for basic research conducted at U.S. colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign 

As one of the nation's leading research institutions, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has been shaping the future since 1867. Our research focus drives experiences for our 50,000+ students, fuels our outreach, and underpins innovations, discoveries and advances that change the world.

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