III. COMPUTER/IT RESOURCE CORE Research Plan of Computer/IT Resource Core Computer technology now permeates every facet of vision research. Computers are used by all scientists for preparing manuscripts and lectures, communicating with colleagues, ordering supplies, searching the Internet, and reading the literature. In addition to these routine tasks, they are also vital for acquisition, storage, and analysis of scientific data. In some laboratories, computers are required to actually carry out experiments, especially those that require presentation of visual stimuli and recording of neuronal responses from the retina or brain. In recent years, experimental rigs that once relied on complex electronic circuitry have evolved to carry out the same hardware functions using computers equipped with specialized software. This shift in instrumentation means that a computer specialist has taken over many tasks that once were the job of an electronics shop. Every investigator has some degree of familiarity with computers, often gained through painful trial and error experience. However, the field of computer technology continues to advance rapidly, and most scientists cannot keep up. In fact, it is difficult simply to maintain adequate laboratory computer systems, as equipment becomes obsolete and new software is introduced. Many scientists find themselves unsure what new computer equipment they need, and how they can design and apply computer systems to meet their needs most efficiently. Sometimes the solution to a computer problem is quite straightforward, but documentation is inadequate, and hours can be wasted dealing with equipment incompatibility, software bugs, or missing components. The worst scenario is a laboratory that does not realize that it needs a new computer backup system until a critical collection of data is lost. Most scientists prefer to spend their time and energy on science, not dealing with computer problems, but few laboratories can afford the luxury of hiring a computer specialist, nor require one full-time. The Computer/IT Core has been immensely successful over the past decade because it has provided all vision laboratories with a highly skilled computer programmer for every aspect of basic computer services. Indeed, since the Core's inception, its work log has documented that over 100 different users ~ from graduate students to post-doctoral fellows to principal investigators ~ have come to the Computer/IT Core for help. The Computer/IT Core is available for the simplest of problems ("my printer won't work") to the most sophisticated challenges, such as writing custom programs to run vision experiments. It is built around a single, highly experienced computer specialist who functions as a jack of all trades, while at the same time providing sophisticated support for specialized applications. This includes a spectrum of services, from software and hardware installation, troubleshooting, automatic data backup, creation of web-based lab databases, to writing of custom programs for data collection and analysis. The vision science community at UCSF shares a strong consensus that dedicated IT support constitutes an exam pie of crucial core support.

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