Remote Instrumentation for Science Education: Ensuring Security for Cyberinfrastructure-enabled Learning

Remote Instrumentation for Science Education: Ensuring Security for Cyberinfrastructure-enabled Learning

Fred E. Lytle (Purdue University, Indiana, USA), Gabriela C. Weaver (Purdue University, Indiana, USA), Phillip Wyss (Purdue University, Indiana, USA), Debora Steffen (Purdue University, Indiana, USA) and John Campbell (Purdue University, Indiana, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-186-3.ch020
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This chapter will describe a laboratory of Internet accessible instrumentation that serves students participating in the Center for Authentic Science Practice in Education (CASPiE). The equipment consists of commercially available scientific instruments not commonly available for teaching purposes in two and four year colleges. All are controlled by proprietary instrument manufacturer software which is also necessary for data reduction and analysis. Because the Center is a consortium of a large number and variety of schools, and because the students have little previous experience with advanced instrumentation, security has been a major design goal. The discussion will focus primarily on the types of security and data provenance issues encountered and the methods used to make the CASPiE laboratory a secure part of the educational cyberinfrastructure.
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The Internet-enabled instrument laboratory described in this chapter has been in existence since 2006 and serving large numbers of students since 2007. It is an integral part of the Center for Authentic Science Practice in Education (CASPiE), an Undergraduate Research Center (Weaver et al., 2006) funded by the United States National Science Foundation. A major goal of the CASPiE program is to devise methods for introducing authentic research experiences into the regular curriculum of first- and second-year course laboratories in order to increase student interest and retention in the sciences. CASPiE is composed of a consortium of over 15 schools ranging from Research I universities to community colleges. Students perform research based on modules written by researchers and extending over several weeks of course laboratory sessions. Data by the researcher is collected and returned to the module author. The data are intended to contribute to the ongoing research program of the module author.

When developing the CASPiE program, it was decided that research-quality data requires research-quality instrumentation and associated software. However, it is too expensive to put a copy of each type of instrument in each instructional laboratory, and the instruments are generally too delicate to be handled by large numbers of students and maintained by instructional staff. Therefore, a remotely accessible network was envisioned. The goal was for this network to allow students to collect research-quality data on their own samples over an internet connection, allowing them to control each instrument but keeping the instruments in a physically secure site. The specific instruments added to the laboratory network are those required to support modules and which would not commonly be found at a community college. Currently the laboratory includes a Fourier transform Raman spectrometer used with a solid-state organic synthesis module, a liquid chromatograph with array detector used with a food antioxidant module, a fast gas chromatograph used with a lipids and health module, and a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer (GC/MS) used with an anti-viral drug discovery module. While these existing modules specifically use these instruments, the instruments are also intended to serve other modules, or even developmental experiments, into the future. To provide measurements on a large number of samples each instrument is outfitted with an autosampler. Because of expense, only one copy of each instrument has been purchased.

Two possible modes of operation can be chosen by individual instructors depending upon the educational goals of their school and class. Samples can be run by laboratory staff with data saved to a server for subsequent processing (called batch mode), or students can run their own samples remotely (see Figure 1). Typically classes of twenty students use the Raman instrument remotely during a module implementation. High throughput has been demonstrated by running 1,400 liquid chromatography samples per semester in batch mode. Simultaneously, a smaller group of students (~75) use the liquid chromatograph via remote access. The GC/MS has been used in batch mode with groups of about ten students each for one of the modules that already exists in CASPiE and is envisioned for extensive remote operation in upcoming modules.

Figure 1.

Network diagram and connections. The instrument control and data processing connections occur at different times.

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