Gibson Virtual Desktops: Mobile Computing, From Anywhere!

Behind the scenes of most technology projects at SEFS—whether in your office, the classroom or out in the field—are a number of resources that help support your research and studies. Among the least visible, yet also the most powerful and versatile of these resources, is our own virtual desktop environment, known as Gibson.

Named for the supercomputer in the movie Hackers, Gibson provides fully secure, 24-hour remote access to high-end software previously available only by visiting SEFS computing labs. The core system is a commercial product, but the SEFS IT Team specifically configured Gibson to meet the needs of classes and research in our school, from remote sensing to data analysis and statistics—all while using only a fraction of the power of a normal computer.



Much of the impetus for developing this system, after all, was hearing about students who had to drive or bus a half hour into campus just to run a certain program for five minutes. Now, all of our students can access Gibson’s programs and features anywhere there’s an internet connection. You can even save preferences and data, and when you later log on to the virtual desktop—no matter where you are in the world—you’ll have your personalized computer waiting for you, along with the full suite of SEFS online resources and software at your fingertips.

Gibson, in short, provides the ultimate mobile computing experience. “It’s like having your own personal cloud,” says Shane Krause, senior computer specialist for SEFS.

Launched by Krause about two years ago, the pilot of Gibson was funded by the Student Technology Fee, along with research funds from Professors Stanley Asah and Soo-Hyung Kim, both of whom were looking for a more mobile system to help their students. Since then the system has grown and evolved with a number of infrastructure improvements, including adding faster hardware and recently moving the entire system from Bloedel Hall over to one of the UW’s main datacenters.

Gibson is now available to all SEFS students, faculty and staff, and the system has seen expanded use on campus, including in other units of the College of the Environment, and at remote sites such as the Arboretum, ONRC and Pack Forest. In fact, the system has already served nearly 1,000 unique users, and there’s plenty of room for more, say Krause and Marc Morrison. So jump in there and get connected—Gibson is ready for primetime!

Student Technology Fee Grant Winners for SEFS!

Marc Morrison was very pleased to report that four SEFS proposals—all student-driven—were recently funded by Student Technology Fee (STF) grants!

STF is funded by UW students with a $41 fee assessed each quarter. Every year, in turn, university departments and students can send in requests for grants from this fund to help cover a variety of technological ventures around campus, such as acquiring lab equipment or gear for field research. As the name of the program suggests, these grants must be geared toward student use, and last year STF funded nearly $5 million in projects.

This year, SEFS students helped secure nearly $250,000 in funding, so check out the winning proposals below! (Also, if you’d like to apply for STF funding next year, find out what kinds of projects are eligible.)

2014 Grant Winners for SEFS

Process and Analytical Equipment for Biofuels Production

The Biofuels and Bioproducts Laboratory (BBL) , which explores all aspects of the bioconversion/thermochemical conversion of lignocellulosic materials into biofuels and bioproducts, requested a grant to purchase state-of-the-art analytical tools, including Raman Spectroscopy (RS) as a real-time fermentation measurement technique; GC-MS (Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry) for quantitative product identification; high-pressure syringe pumps for supercritical fluid applications; and powerful, high-speed computers to run simulations to verify and complement experimental results. The computers and process and analytical equipment the lab requested will be a great benefit to not only the BBL graduate and undergraduate students, but to the entire SEFS undergraduate community, because every graduating junior and graduate student in the Bioresource Science & Engineering (BSE) program of SEFS takes BSE 426, which would include experiments to convert ethanol into gasoline using the high-pressure pump, and analysis procedures with the GC-MS and new computers.

Total grant award: $169,909.71

Natural Resources Field Tool Kits
To assist field research capabilities for SEFS graduate and undergraduate students, this grant requested funds to acquire tablet computers with rugged cases and other associated measurement tools, or a “Natural Resources Field Tool Kit” that students can reserve and check out for field-based data collection. The tablets will optimize student information management by allowing direct data input, photography/videography, spatial and mapping inference, as well as access to field guides and scientific literature while in remote settings. The equipment will be available to students campus-wide and will set UW students apart by giving them expertise and opportunities for unexpected innovations using these developing technologies, as opposed to continued reliance on outdated tools and techniques for field research.

Total grant award: $30,437.95

College of the Environment Field Research Equipment
A group of SEFS graduate students requested this grant to purchase wildlife field research equipment that has the potential to benefit many students studying in the College of the Environment. This grant will cover the purchase of remote cameras—currently unavailable to most students—and field equipment to run at least two camera-based wildlife research projects, or provide a College field course with enough equipment to run a thorough wildlife research project. Other items to be purchased, including field laptops, wildlife camera traps, portable GPS units and SPOT receivers (satellite positioning and tracking devices used for emergency communications), will provide students throughout the College with access to state-of-the-art equipment that will allow them to apply what they learn in the classroom to rigorous wildlife field research—including as part of senior capstone projects.

Total grant award: $44,009.62

Restoration Ecology Network GPS Units
The University of Washington Restoration Ecology Network (UW REN) Capstone in Ecological Restoration, a 13-year-old program that continues to grow each year, currently involves 63 students. This grant will allow for the purchase of badly needed equipment—specifically, six GPS units—for ESRM seniors and graduate students to ensure they have the tools to create professional, computer-based maps for their restoration planning documents related to their UW REN Capstone project.

Total grant award: $3,889.05