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New High-Tech SONIC Lab Opens

Professor Noshir Contractor

View of the state-of-the-art conference room; the observation room is behind the reflective glass.

Equipment within the observation room allows the lab to connect with other facilities around the world.

Even the lobby enables small group networking, connectivity to the conference room, and beyond.

The much-anticipated lab supporting the Science of Networks in Communities (SONIC) research has opened on the first floor of the School of Communication's Frances Searle building. Directed by professor Noshir Contractor, the SONIC lab investigates factors that lead to the formation, maintenance, and dissolution of multi-dimensional networks in hopes of better understanding and enabling them. Contractor's research team develops and tests theories and methods of network science in a wide variety of contexts including business, science and engineering, societal justice, education, and virtual worlds like Second Life.

The SONIC laboratory will serve as an interdisciplinary "Exploratorium" for the collection, analysis, and visualization of large scale networks. Says Contractor: "The insights from our research will enable networks to more effectively address major societal challenges in areas such as public health, climate change, and emergency response."

Appropriately, the new lab is quite technically sophisticated in terms of being able to tele- and video-connect remotely with groups around the world. There are many high-tech features in the new space, but a few highlights include:

  • High-definition video conferencing
  • An observation room complete with camera controls to monitor focus group and experimental activities in the main conference room
  • A mobile media cart that can be connected to the lab's technical system or operate independently.

"The SONIC lab is one of the most sophisticated end-to-end network research laboratories in the world," says Contractor. "The observation room has the ability to capture unprecedented levels of high-volume, high-resolution social network interaction data, and the large array of servers provides the infrastructure to conduct high-end computation to analyze and visualize several terabytes of data. The optical network infrastructure connects the lab with ultra-high bandwidth connectivity, in order to utilize petascale facilities at supercomputing centers around the world.

Contractor continues: "The network infrastructure is also being used to support research and teaching collaboration with other universities and research centers via high-definition telepresence and videoconferencing environments."