Building the world’s first university cloud lab

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Emerald Cloud Lab (ECL) recently announced their plans to build a cloud lab on the university’s Pittsburgh campus. A carbon copy of ECL’s San Francisco lab, the CMU Cloud Lab will allow scientists to perform remote experiments and give them access to nearly 200 types of scientific instruments.

To find out more about the CMU Cloud Lab, the motivation of the project and the benefits it will bring, Technological networks spoke with Rebecca Doerge, PhD, Dean, Mellon College of Science, Carnegie Mellon University, and Toby Blackburn, Business Development and Research Manager, Emerald Cloud Lab.

Anna MacDonald (AM): What was the motivation behind the creation of a cloud lab at CMU?

Rebecca Doerge (RD):
Carnegie Mellon University excels in basic sciences, robotics, machine learning, and data science – all areas that are at the heart of the cloud lab and automated science. We are also in the middle of a Future of Science initiative, where we are devoting our time and resources to creating the future of science and training the scientists of the future. It made sense that we were the ones creating the world’s first cloud lab at a university.

AM: It will be the first cloud lab in a university setting. Why do you think other universities have not yet adopted this approach?

CMU is visionary and forward thinking in bringing a cloud lab to campus. Brian Frezza and DJ Kleinbaum of ECL are our alumni and they have given us the chance to be a pioneer in this field. For us, the cloud lab’s promise for academic research and teaching was undeniable, and we jumped on it early on.

AM: What makes CMU well suited to host a cloud lab?

Carnegie Mellon has long been a global leader in basic sciences, computer science, robotics, machine learning, and data science, all of which underpin the cloud lab. We are also known to be an institution where interdisciplinary collaboration is encouraged and thrives. Carnegie Mellon scientists often collaborate with computer scientists, engineers and statisticians to improve their work using technology. The cloud lab is an extension of this.

Carnegie Mellon is also committed to training the next generation of scientists. Part of this prepares them to use the latest methods and technologies. Giving our students access to a cloud lab will expose them to coding and automated science. It will also provide CMU students with better access to state-of-the-art research equipment when conducting their own research.

AM: Can you tell us more about the platform on which the lab will be based?

Toby Blackburn (VG):
Emerald Cloud Lab is the world’s first advanced preclinical biopharmaceutical R&D lab that runs experiments virtually from the cloud. Experiments ranging from basic chemistry to cell biology can be performed using ECL’s instrument collection that encompasses 190 different capabilities, all through a single platform, ECL Command Center.

The Carnegie Mellon University Cloud Lab will be based on ECL’s Global Cloud, a facility located in South San Francisco that is accessible to businesses, start-ups and university customers. Command Center, the system used to interact with the lab and the data, will operate similarly at both facilities, allowing interoperability of experiment controls and data analysis functions.

AM: Can you give us an overview of how the cloud lab works? What equipment will be available and what experiments will be possible?

The cloud lab will operate identically to ECL’s current Global Cloud, but will be fully dedicated to the CMU community’s experiences and research.

Scientists will use Command Center to design their experiments, which will then be performed in the Cloud Lab. Once the experiment is complete, users can also perform all analysis, visualization and interpretation of the data in Command Center.

The CMU Cloud Lab’s equipment and capabilities are largely based on the
ECL Global Cloud, but we are currently working with CMU to finalize the equipment list and ensure the facility will meet the needs of CMU faculty, staff and students.

AM: In what ways do you think the cloud lab will benefit faculty, students, and the wider community?

Carnegie Mellon University’s Cloud Lab will democratize science. Carnegie Mellon’s faculty and students, both undergraduate and graduate, will no longer be limited by the cost, availability and location of equipment. We also plan to open the Carnegie Mellon Cloud Lab to other members of the research community, including high school students, researchers at small universities who may not have advanced research facilities, and researchers. local life science start-ups.

AM: How does the development and implementation of a cloud lab in a university setting compare to the development of a lab in an industrial environment?

Functionally, the two Cloud Labs will operate the same, with the CMU installation taking advantage of all the developments and lessons learned from the creation of the ECL. We plan to maintain this compatibility, allowing CMU to benefit from the further development of our pharmaceutical and biotechnology customers, and vice versa.

One thing that really excites us is the public nature of academic research. With the potential to publish research with not only the raw data associated with the research, but also the experimental controls used to generate that raw data at the push of a button, the cloud lab can truly change the landscape of scientific research and go a long way to go to resolve the reproducibility crisis.

AM: Do you have any advice for other academic institutions that are considering developing a cloud lab?

Universities should be constantly on the lookout for new and better ways to research and teach. A cloud lab is a prime example. For the past several years, Carnegie Mellon faculty have used ECL’s facilities for research and teaching. From a research perspective, we’ve found that using the cloud lab accelerates the pace of discovery and generates accurate, repeatable, and shareable data. Educationally, students are excited about the cloud lab. We believe the cloud lab is part of the future of science and believe it is important for academia to start using the platform.

Additionally, having access to ECL facilities was a game-changer as many of us worked and learned remotely due to COVID-19. We were able to use the cloud lab to provide distance learning students with a lab experience. And while many researchers had to put their lab work on hold, those working with the cloud lab could continue to experiment.

Rebecca Doerge and Toby Blackburn spoke to Anna MacDonald, science writer for Technology Networks.

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