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Photo of José Ortiz Ubarri, Jesus Cabán, Luis Vélez Mateo, Maria Merghal, and Nathaniel Gonzalez

University of Puerto Rico computer science students (left to right) José Ortiz Ubarri, Jesus Cabán, Luis Vélez Mateo, Maria Merghal, and Nathaniel Gonzalez spent two months at UK this summer.

University of Puerto Rico Students Spend Summer in Lexington

"It's so quiet here." That seemed to be the consensus of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) students who spent eight weeks at UK this summer. And compared with their capital city San Juan, with a population of 1.6 million, Lexington, Kentucky, would seem pretty tranquil. But against this backdrop of relative quiet, computer science majors Jesus Cabán, Maria Merghal and José Ortiz Ubarri managed to squeeze a lot of cutting-edge research into two months' time at the Laboratory for Advanced Networking.

The UK-UPR connection goes back to 1998 when eight Puerto Rican students came to Lexington for a summer research program. This year 10 students from UPR came to UK, five in computer science and five in toxicology and biomedical sciences. UPR has 70,000 undergraduate students on 11 campuses, including the High-Performance Computing Facility and medical center, and has some unique resources such as a primate center and tropical forestry institute.

Ashley Netherton, the first UK student to travel to UPR, is currently gathering data for her master's work in tropical reforestation at a geostation in the only tropical rain forest in North America. A number of UK faculty have spent sabbaticals in Puerto Rico and have taught short-courses there, including Brent Seales and Christopher Jaynes. In fact, that's how they met these students.

Seales taught the three students during his short course, "Introduction to Image Processing," at UPR last January. "Jesus, Maria and José are really bright," Seales says. "I saw the students who were really motivated and then had some influence in encouraging them to come up."

Cabán, who worked closely with Seales during his time at UK, concentrated on the fundamental set-up of the Metaverse. "I focused on a project that distributes the rendering [drawing] of the graphics between any number of machines," Jesus says. He spent time writing programs to do things like calibrate projectors for the Linux operating system, based on programs UK students had originally written for Windows NT. Cabán works at the High-Performance Computing Facility in San Juan, which serves researchers all across Puerto Rico, and interned at Silicon Graphics in Orlando, Florida, last summer.

Cabán and Seales spent several days in July setting up the first Metaverse node in Puerto Rico at the computing facility. "Getting Jesus involved is a major coup because he'll have a whole year to give us weekly reports on how it's going, and as we have new technology to deploy, he can help set it up," Seales says. "Conveniently, Jesus's brother William Cabán is in charge of setting up Internet2 at the center, so we have an 'in' as far as getting the network bandwidth we want as soon as possible."

There will be two Metaverse nodes in Puerto Rico, one in the computing facility and one in the library. "They'll have a local-area network to connect the two sites, just like we'll have at UK, and then we'll have the wide-area connection so students in Puerto Rico could watch Jim McDonough teach from our mechanical engineering building," Seales says. Jaynes plans to take his UK students to Puerto Rico in December to set up the node in the library.

Merghal took Jaynes's one-week seminar in Puerto Rico on OpenGL, and says that's why she came to UK.

"OpenGL is a graphics programming language that is capable of exploiting the accelerated graphics hardware in most PCs today," Jaynes says. Merghal used this language to make an interactive 3-D model of the James F. Hardymon Building.

"OpenGL is the most basic way of creating graphics; there's no visual interface where you click with the mouse. It's just code that makes points and vertices," she says. Before she came to UK, Merghal was working on a 3-D model of the bell tower in San Juan. "We were experimenting with that, and we plan to move on to other historic monuments and buildings in Puerto Rico."

Ubarri, who also works at UPR's High Performance Computing Facility, conducted research under Jim Griffioen's direction. "I worked on the Digital Atheneum project, which has a goal of enabling literary scholars to recover the content of old documents through image processing," says Ubarri, who after graduating from UPR plans to stay in academia as a networking researcher. "Scholars can exchange the methods in which they restore old documents with other scholars through a friendly graphical user interface," he says. "I worked on how that interface contacts servers over the network."

Cabán, Merghal and Ubarri all say they enjoyed their experience at UK, and it's good for the university as well, says Del Collins, associate vice president for research and graduate studies in the medical center. "The summer research experience program has been particularly productive because it's enabled us to bring students from another culture to conduct research at the University of Kentucky," says Collins, the key UK player in creating this program. "But it also has enabled us to recruit some high-quality Spanish-speaking students to do graduate study here, providing important diversity to the campus."

Alicia P. Gregory

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