(This is the second in a series of reports on the Regional Connectivity Ring, currently under construction. The high speed data loop will serve Southside Hampton Roads at first, with plans to expand eventually to the Peninsula.)

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – Jefferson Laboratory works with the extremely big and the extremely small.

Its National Accelerator Facility is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science national lab. J-Lab explores the nature of matter, working like an enormous microscope, probing the building blocks of matter. That’s the small part.

In order to accomplish that, it runs numerous simulations that generate gargantuan amounts of data, which are, at the same time, both critically useful and highly unwieldy. That’s the big part.

J-Lab deals in petabytes. If you’ve heard of a gigabyte, well multiply your gigabyte data file by one million and you get a petabyte. That makes J-Lab a collaboration hub for several universities, including physics researchers at Old Dominion University.

“Universities are huge users of all the data we can get,” said ODU Vice President of Research Morris Foster. “We want our researchers here, our students and our faculty to be able to access that data and work with it on our campus.”

One of those researchers is physics professor Charles Hyde. Work done by his team lays a foundation for CAT scans, PET scans and cancer treatments, as well as LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) systems that probe the surface layers of the ocean.

“They affect climate and our understanding of oxygen and carbon cycles,” Hyde said.

Other medical applications of the research include “medical imaging for mammograms, and imaging to take pictures inside the body of babies that are probably safer than using x-rays,” according to Andy Kowalski, deputy chief information officer for J-Lab, “as well as making portable medical devices that you can take out into the field, to provide access in underserved areas because they’re portable.”

As we reported in previous coverage, the Regional Connectivity Ring is a 119-mile loop of fiber optic cable that will put five local cities in the fast lane of broadband data transport.

The loop will connect with transatlantic undersea cables that come ashore at Virginia Beach, and will draw that city together with Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Chesapeake. Each city is contributing $5 million to make it happen.

The project is expected to be fully operational in 2025.

“The research here determines what the textbooks of tomorrow look like as to what we teach our students in high school and in college,” Kowalski said, “and those students in turn use the knowledge that they gain from those courses to make the advances in technology.”