New Director of Cyberinfrastructure looks to bring resources to challenges

Scotty Strachan named to new University role designed to bridge technology, research and society

Scotty Strachan named new director of cyberinfrastructure at University of Nevada, Reno

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2/22/2018 | By: Alcira Pastula | Jane Tors |

Through new collaborative ventures and faculty input, the University's Office of Information Technology and Research & Innovation are constructing an improved technology infrastructure to propel faculty research and competitiveness, and respond to the needs of a growing campus.

As part of the strategy to integrate technology and research in a more intentional manner, it became evident that a director of cyberinfrastructure could be a critical piece to bring the puzzle together. After a national search, Scotty Strachan, formerly environmental research coordinator in the College of Science, has been selected to fill the new position, as he has the experience as an interdisciplinary scientist and knowledge of Nevada's challenges and opportunities.

Image of Scotty Strachan

"We have embraced our (campus) growth, although it has not come without challenges, challenges that can be solved with properly allocated resources," said Strachan. "For researchers, having access to high performance technology to conduct their work is essential to their success."

"The University has already been pursuing valuable partnerships with the growing technology sector in northern Nevada, for instance, Dell EMC Corporation, Switch and others as they move into the region," he said. "We are doing this, while also expanding and forging better relationships with the state and local governments that benefit from our local activities. By partnering with them in developing tech solutions, we will sharpen our ability to gather, transport, process and share data as well as make research results available in different ways to the wider community as we pursue our land-grant mission."

"Technology and research innovation go hand-in-hand, one doesn't move forward without the other," said Steve Smith, CIO and vice provost for Information Technology. "Scotty has the right mix of experience and expertise as director of cyberinfrastructure to bridge those two worlds and significantly move our research efforts forward."

A Vision in Action

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The term "cyberinfrastructure" was initially used by the National Science Foundation when referring to advanced and high-performance information technology equipment and systems, especially in the context of scientific and engineering research. Cyberinfrastructure is the combination of technology (computing systems, high-speed networks, data management structures, advanced instrumentation, external data repositories, remote observation systems, visualization environments and mobile devices) and associated human expertise (specialists, engineers and training personnel) which, in unison, considerably enhance research and innovation.

The director of cyberinfrastructure position is jointly supported by the Office of Information Technology and Research & Innovation, and will work closely with the faculty-based Cyberinfrastructure Committee in the development of end-to-end information-technology solutions designed to streamline work-flows and maximize research quality. The director will also coordinate closely with the Nevada Center for Applied Research in the development of industry collaborations and the University's new high-performance computing cluster.

Strachan envisions better integrating campus cyberinfrastructure activities with national research priorities, international federations and a consortium of academic engineering and industry information technology organizations. He is excited to have the opportunity to create a strategy that includes both existing assets at the University and building new ones in partnership with such external organizations.

Within his first month in the role, Strachan began pursuing grant-support for campus-wide cyberinfrastructure improvements.

Scotty Strachan installing research equipment on a light pole

"This first effort to secure campus cyberinfrastructure funding will improve connectivity between researchers across campus to our new High-Performance Computing cluster, Pronghorn, located at the Switch Tahoe-Reno Citadel Campus," Strachan said.

"I personally identify with the immense pressures on our early-career and new-hire faculty to excel in research, mentoring and teaching," Strachan said. "And, just as I've been able to leverage technology and scale my own work, I believe that we as an institution can make those tools more accessible to the front lines to boost our movement upwards as a high-impact research university."

Bringing campus and research experience

Scotty Strachan and Colleague in a forest setting collecting data Strachan was raised in the rural Walker Basin in western Nevada, with roots in mining, ranching and outdoors activities. While he has worked and traveled extensively outside the region, he calls the Great Basin his home. His wife Anthea Douglas, and sons James, 12, and Calvin, 10, share his love for exploration and fieldwork.

A true product of Nevada's higher-education system, Strachan worked his way through Western Nevada Community College while employed at the Bently Nevada Corporation in Minden, Nevada, and graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2001 with a bachelor's degree in geography and minor in economics.

Strachan took up environmental science as a research technician at the University, primarily working with tree rings, climate and hydrology. After spending some additional years as a geo-technical consultant and project manager, he returned to the University and completed a M.S. and Ph.D., both in geography, along with a graduate minor in business administration. Ever the multi-tasker, Strachan accomplished this while holding an administrative faculty position focused on research funded though the College of Science and the College of Engineering.

Scotty Strachan collecting research data in an outdoor environment

Strachan currently leads and contributes to national and international working groups in sensor networks, science data management and mountain climate, and he actively collaborates with non-academic groups such as the Long Now Foundation to bridge the gap between science and society. Strachan also serves as director of the Nevada Climate Eco-hydrological Assessment Network (NevCAN), a sensor network jointly owned and operated between University of Nevada, Reno, Desert Research Institute and University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He enjoys working across institutional and divisional boundaries, and seeks to expand research that serves all populations of his home state and beyond.

Strachan has successfully published research across diverse disciplines including archaeology, ecology, computer science, water resources, and climate modeling. His primary research interests lie in mountain ecosystems and observational networks, and he relies heavily on the integration of information technologies with research to accomplish his goals of producing useful, long-term science. As a part of his new position, Strachan will devote 20 percent of his time toward continuing his research.

Strachan plans on getting out and visiting labs and departments across campus to become more familiar with their diverse requirements. He also encourages his colleagues to visit him in the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, room 316, to discuss their needs in research-oriented information technology.

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