Nuclear science group develops Eclipse-based app on Linux

In what appears to be a coup for the IBM-born Eclipse open source Java development framework, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization (Ansto) has started using it to build a Linux-based desktop application for controlling laboratory instrumentation.

Ansto’s IT project manager Nick Hauser said having been through the design phase, development of the application – called Gumtree - has started and is due for completion in two years.

“Once complete the application will allow neutron beam instrumentation experiments to be performed locally or remotely,” Hauser said. “But researchers won’t be able to access reactor components remotely, only the instruments are available.”

Ansto will have the “normal security arrangements” to stop people getting into the network, according to Hauser.

The Gumtree application is being developed as part of the $330 million replacement research reactor and the neutron beam instruments is the scientific arm of the project.

Ansto’s IT department is providing the technology infrastructure to operate instruments and collect and analyze data.

Hauser’s team of four researchers is using Linux and the open source Eclipse to develop the desktop application in Sydney with the server application being customized for the project in conjunction with the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland and the European Synchrotron Radiation facility. Hauser hopes that Australian Synchrotron will also join the project.

“We’re using extreme programming principles, which is part of the development spiral, and we have an architecture in place,” he said.

“The idea is that it could be used in a scientific distributed system where there are a multitude of devices, for example, telescopes. We may open source the resulting application and put it on Sourceforge. We are in discussion with our legal department about this.”

Hauser described Eclipse as “awesome” and said the rich client platform came out about the same time his team was deciding on the client technology.

“Initially, we were going to write a Java client from scratch, but there is so much of a value-add with Eclipse which is powerful,” he said. “For free software, it is great and low on bugs.”

Hauser said the software algorithms aren’t that complex, but the data set sizes range from one kilobyte to tens of gigabytes which lends itself to relying on computer grids.

“We would love to get into APAC’s national grid program but Ansto’s not that well connected in that area,” he said. “When a grid appears on the local scene we will be able to move data around.”

When asked if Ansto has any plans to build its own supercomputer to assist with its calculations, Hauser said: “We’re not in the business of computing.”

As part of a “greenfield” IT implementation at the new reactor, Ansto will deploy Cisco networking equipment and new servers which are yet to be chosen. The new software will then be deployed.

Ansto is now seeking local research partners for the Gumtree project and is looking for people with data analysis skills for its upcoming data analysis project.

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