Rapid portlets are a hit with chemistsby Simon Hettrick, OMII-UK
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Portlets make inaccessible technology accessible, because they run from within a browser – a familiar interface for even the most technophobic researcher. To encourage the use of portlets, it is necessary for them to be easy to develop. This led OMII-UK to fund Rapid, an easy-to-use portlet development tool. Chemists from the Universities of Edinburgh and St. Andrews (EaStCHEM) have recently used the software to create portlets that have allowed access to computational-chemistry software by over 140 students.
EaStCHEM use computational-chemistry software, such as Gaussian 03, for research and teaching activities. However, technological barriers prevented many chemists from using the software. To overcome these barriers, the Rapid project showed EaStCHEM how to create portlets with Rapid. This training led to one chemist creating four portlets without the help of a software developer.
One of the four portlets is now used to teach over 140 chemistry students. This user-friendly portlet hides the complexity of the tutorial (such as, command line options, authentication protocols and job submission commands) from the student, so that they can concentrate on learning the software. Importantly, the only complexity that isn’t hidden, is the code needed to learn how to drive the computational-chemistry software. Learning this code is a skill that the students will need throughout their careers as chemists.
Portlets do not just make applications more user friendly. Future work with EaStCHEM will make more resources available to the chemists, such as those supplied by the National Grid Service. This will overcome difficulties in securing time on the resources available within the universities and will harness more computational power for the chemists.