ASU Flinn partnership

Computers form the backbone of today’s education system, and society at large. Encompassing schools, colleges and universities, online education has gained unforeseen traction over the last decade. The reach of this education paradigm goes well beyond the boundaries of traditional disciplines, exposing Arizona students to the best of world. However, there remains significant cost of hardware and software infrastructure as well as staffing needs that prevent computer-aided education reach the underserved areas – a situation which aptly represents the state of several schools in Arizona. The universities and national supercomputers possess excellent capabilities for pushing the online education initiative, but lacks often optimal dissemination tools.

Using the area of Biological Physics (denoted Biophysics from hereon) as an example, I propose to create a computer-aided education pipeline that channels cadres of high-school students from the K-12 system into the Arizona Universities, first into colleges and finally into graduate-school. The focus for now is on disciplines such as Chemistry, Physics and Biology, which aptly embeds the Biophysics them of our pipeline. The innovation in Biophysics that enables such an initiative includes a highly sophisticated software for interactive visualization of molecules, called VMD, and it’s interfacing with remote visualization and cloud computing tools, such as NICE DCV and Amazon web services. Taken together, via the remote-visualization capabilities developed in the Singharoy laboratory, the library computers of a high-school will be directly connected with the high-end computing facilities at ASU. Overcoming the need of a dedicated computer lab, even with a weakly configured computer, remote-visualization using DCV and VMD will allow students investigate the structures and functions of proteins, DNA, RNA and viruses as part of their in-class curriculum. This mode of online education comes at zero overhead for the high schools, and the teachers and students will be trained hands-on by members of the ASU team. Outcome will be a batch of well-trained students driven towards specialization in Biophysics across their college and university endeavors. This intellectual retention will allow programs at ASU and University of Arizona to leverage an excellent pool student for their undergraduate and graduate studies.

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A pilot project is already funded by the Flinn Foundation between the Arizona College Prep school in the Chandler school district and ASU. The online project prepares students for competing in national and international science competitions. Contingent to funding, in addition to the training, the participating teachers will receive a compensatory stipend.