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Jetstream helps teach the next generation of computational chemists

Mark Perri, a professor at Sonoma State University in California says, like many academic departments, his didn’t have enough computing power to teach computational chemistry. 

Mark Perri, Sonoma State University
Mark Perri, Sonoma State University

And because Jetstream, led by the Indiana University Pervasive Technology Institute (IU_PTI), is funded by the National Science Foundation, access to advanced cyberinfrastructure is free for educators and researchers. “It’s nice to provide this for other people who can’t afford the fancy software but who still want to learn,” Perri explains. Simply put, “Jetstream is a way for us to get needed resources.”

Though it began in 2015 as a project for Perri’s class of 25 students, ChemCompute now has over six thousand hits a year. In addition to Jetstream, the site utilizes Comet, a cluster at the San Diego Supercomputing Center, and Bridges at the Pittsburgh Supercomputer Center. Access to Jetstream has helped his students understand the possibilities of computational research.

Many students didn’t even know that you use computers in chemistry. They think chemistry is in the lab pouring chemicals together. A lot of the class is just showing them there’s this whole other opportunity.

Mark Perri

ChemCompute also helps solve the coding skills gap among Perri’s students. “A lot of them told me that they weren’t computer people. That’s one of the reasons why I did this on a website, because students are used to websites,” Perri said. He says his next goal is to make ChemCompute compatible with cell phones. “That way I can have everyone pull out their phones during lecture, and still learn chemistry,” he explained. 

Perri says arming students with some knowledge of coding will help them succeed as scientists. “Students need to be comfortable with using computers and using software that they’ve never seen before. They need exposure to more things, really just for confidence.” As an experimental chemist, Perry says knowing how to program computations was instrumental to success in his field: “I found it very helpful to know coding in order to analyze data. It’s much easier to write a program than doing it by hand or in excel.”