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Home > iSGTW 13 June 2007 > iSGTW Feature - Kiwis just love being the BeST

 

Feature - Kiwis just love being the BeST


Maori language is just one of more than a thousand languages making up the Austronesian language family, currently being documented with the help of BeSTGRID.
Stock image from sxc.hc

Anyone who has ever been on the wrong end of an All Black rugby scrum can tell you: Kiwis don’t like to play second best.

A nation of innovators, New Zealand has a proud history of scientific excellence, perhaps beginning way back in 1908 when Kiwi physicist Ernest Lord Rutherford won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

Over the last ten years, the amount of research and development carried out in New Zealand has nearly doubled; the number of scientific positions has increased by 60%. New Zealand is ramping up its already productive R&D sector.

Paul Bonnington, director of New Zealand’s BeSTGRID and of eResearch at the University of Auckland, says now is also the time for New Zealand to tackle e-science.

“A great deal of scientific research is now computational,” he says, “involving large amounts of data. It is based on simulations or data-matching, which use large amounts of computer space and time.”

New Zealand academics, researchers and educators are already linked by the Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network. KAREN is a high-speed, high-capacity internet network that is providing the key infrastructure to improve grid development in New Zealand.

According to Bonnington, KAREN’s low latency makes real-time collaboration a reality.

“The plan is to link some of the computational resources of the three universities [Auckland, Massey, and Canterbury] so that they appear to be one big virtual computer, with seamless access to the scientific data located across the universities, and tools that facilitate collaboration,” he explains.

BeSTGRID is the product of this plan. Standing for Broadband-enabled Science and Technology Grid, BeSTGRID allows scientists from across the country to collaborate in cyber-communities, otherwise known as “collaboratories,” working to help solve the mysteries of science…and of language.

BeSTGRID provides over 100 terabytes of storage space for research data, distributed between Auckland, Canterbury and Massey Universities.
Image courtesy of the University of Auckland

In addition to powering projects on human immunology, earthquake engineering, quantum optics and bioinformatics, BeSTGRID is also providing the data storage and sharing capacity required for studies of basic Austronesian vocabulary.

So how hard can it be to build a dictionary? Harder then you think. The database currently contains entries spanning more than 490 languages spoken across the Pacific region, and it just keeps on growing.

And no wonder. The Austronesian language family contains between 1000 and 1200 distinct languages, only a fraction of which have been recorded.

BeSTGRID is a Tertiary Education Commission Innovation and Development Fund Project currently involving five universities across New Zealand: the University of Auckland, University of Canterbury, Massey University, the Victoria University of Wellington  and the Auckland University of Technology.

- Cristy Burne, iSGTW

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