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Canada and California forge a strategic partnership

Vancouver, BC – The University of British Columbia and the University of California say that a growing partnership between research leaders in the two countries has resulted in the completion of a new ultra-high bandwidth connection between Canada’s national research and education network and the California state education network. The partnership has also defined four areas of research collaboration for further investigation.

The second Canada-California Strategic Innovation Partnership Summit was held on June 11-12 and was attended by over 150 representatives of universities, government departments and the private sector from the two jurisdictions. The first summit was held five months ago in Los Angeles. The initiative has been led by a bilateral steering committee consisting of nine vice-presidents from Canadian and California universities.

“This unique discussion started only last January,” says Dr John Hepburn, vice-president research at the University of British Columbia and host of the summit, “But it has already led to important achievements.”

“The next steps will involve more working scientists to refine the ideas that have been defined by the working groups at this summit,” adds Dr Roberto Peccei, vice chancellor for research at the University of California Los Angeles. We have identified areas where our facilities and expertise are highly complementary, and we need to keep working to identify specific opportunities where we can collaborate to address some of the big issues of the day.”

The four areas of potential collaboration that the summit focused on are stem cell and regenerative medicine, infectious diseases, nanotechnology, and advanced transportation and energy. Three overarching issues were also addressed: information technology and broadband, highly qualified human resources, and venture capital.

The most specific challenge to the participants arising from the January summit was to establish a new ultra-high bandwidth connection between Canada’s national research network, run by CANARIE, and CENIC, the California state education network that provides services to all the campuses of the University of California, USC, Stanford, and Caltech, as well as those of the California State University.

These new optical connections are not shared like the traditional Internet, but rather can deliver one or 10 gigabits/sec to an individual researcher. The new “optical overlay” to today’s shared Internet provides a novel infrastructure seen as vital to the collaborative efforts being discussed at the summit.

The first proof-of-principle demonstration of the CANARIE/CENIC interconnection was successfully carried out last week. When completed, this Canadian-California “superhighway” for data will permit individual research projects to have dedicated capacity to support enormous streams of data transfer that would overwhelm a conventional shared network like the Internet.

The two institutions that were connected in last week’s test were Canada’s Communications Research Centre (CRC) in Ottawa and the UC San Diego’s division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2). This test was the first step toward CRC becoming the first Canadian partner of the US National Science Foundation’s “OptIPuter” computer science research project (

Both CRC and Calit2 will terminate their new gigabit optical channel with an OptIPortal, a high resolution tiled display wall, driven by a graphics cluster build from commodity PCs. The large size and high resolution of such an environment supports collaborative interaction among the participants at both ends of the connection, whether the images being shared are large-scale datasets or high definition TV streams. The interactive “collaboratory” formed between Calit2 and CRC would not be possible without the new optical network. It also uses a new network management capability, developed as part of a CANARIE research program, called “User Controlled LightPath”, or UCLP, to establish the connection.

The interest of CRC in collaborating with Calit2 on the OptIPuter project was based partly on its own mission to explore innovative broadband applications, in particular those using UCLP. It was also based on the interest of researchers at Carleton University’s Immersive Multimedia Studio with whom they have partnered to develop an application focusing on collaborative architectural design.

Other applications of the new network that were discussed at the summit included collaboration between brain imaging researchers at McGill’s Neurological Institute and colleagues at UCSD’s National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research, the participation of researchers at Ryerson University in Toronto in the Calit2 CineGrid project that involves the live streaming of next-generation digital cinema, and the HP Labs data centre project at the University of Calgary.

Participants at the summit saw these initial projects as important demonstrations of how research collaboration in the other areas discussed at the summit, such as nanotechnology, infectious diseases, and stem cell research, can be enabled by new networking and information technologies.