Remote Control of Scientific Instruments

General-purpose Java Class Libraries

Project Description

In order to facilitate the construction of interactive remote contol interfaces, researchers at Oak Ridge National Lab are developing a set of Java Packages containing classes of general use for secure instrument control on-line.

Security, ease-of-use, and cross-platform access are the focus areas of the research. These three areas often are at odds with one another with some facilities wanting high security at the expense of ease-of-use while other facilities want a more balanced environment. Authentication and secure transmission of data are common elements in all three of the packages described below.

Scheduling Package

In order to use a limited resource such as a one-of-a-kind instrument or national research facility, there must be a method to schedule time on the facility. It would be useful to have an on-line tool that allowed researchers to check on the usage schedule for an instrument. This tool could also allow researchers to submit proposals on-line for time on the facility. Users could learn if the instrument is down for repairs and how the schedule is shifted because of down time. The Scheduling Package could also include classes for describing input parameters to a off-hours batch job. For example, at ORNL's High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) an experiment is generally non-interactive. But it may be scheduled to begin at midnight and run for 30 hours. The researcher could predefine the input and not have to be logged on when the experiment starts. See DIXIE Home Page for an prototype HFIR Web interface.

Interactive Control Package

Some instruments such as the Electron Microscopes in ORNL's High Temperature Materials Lab, require interactive control. We are developing a class library of general Java widgets that can be quickly combined into a custom control panel for a particular instrument.

While each instrument has its own unique controls and safe input ranges, the number of different types of physical controls (knobs, buttons, sliders, and keyboard) is quite small. Having general-purpose screen analogs to standard inputs, as well as widgets that are designed to be particularly easy to use with a keyboard and mouse will comprise the Interactive Control Package. See Electron Microscope Control Page for an example interface.

Data Retrieval Package

At the end of a long scientific experiment, the remote researcher wants to be able to retrieve his data and have it presented in a pleasing fashion. The Data Retrieval Package is concerned with making sure data can not be accessed by anyone who is not authorized and to provide classes to graph data. The package is not planned to include elaborate analysis functions or presentation methods. Our purpose is not to reinvent such software, but rather allow the remote research to securely pull his data to his local site where he can apply his favorite analysis tools to the data. See DIXIE Home Page for an example data retrieval/display interface.

Last Modified June 22, 1996 by Geist