Paid freelance project: website for a materials science research group. Hosted on AWS S3, using API Gateway and lambda services.
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This is a freelance project to create a website for a computational materials science group at the University of California at Riverside. The site is currently a work-in-progress; when finished I'll include the link to the site. Happy to provide the in-progress site link privately.

I am working with a computational group and thus could take great liberty in knowing the content I needed to collect could be directly entered into json format by my client and his group members. As a result, I chose to create a static-ish site hosted from Amazon's Simple Storage System (S3), without a content management system or a database. Any 'traditional' server needs will be handled through the myriad of Amazon Web Services (AWS). These simplifications (of relying on the client's technical saviness) made this a very fun project, in which I could expand my knowledge into new technical spaces, including AWS, node scripting, build processes, customer communication, design concepts, and UI features.


'Goals' are loosely defined as client objectives for the site, technical objectives I had for the site, and goals in my personal technical learning.

  • Create an awesome, professional site appropriately suited for a computational design group starting with an existing 'UI template' (using it to learn about UI features and design)
  • Create a server-less website by using AWS API gateway with microservices
  • Set up lamba functions for processing contact form and a news feed
  • Use only npm and node scripts for the build process
  • Understand how to manage an image heavy site
    • use ImageMagick to reduce image size-on-disk, crop pictures, etc.
    • find third-party libraries to optimize image loading
  • Use the the existing single page template to create the following sectional content
    • above-the-fold landing section that shows off computational images
    • reseach section: display image 'teasers' that reveals detailed project descriptions on click
    • group-members section: display photos of group member and expand on click or hover to reveal more detail
    • publications section: show featured publications in correct format (journal, book, conference proceeding) and a click-more section
    • about, teaching, and outreach sections: basic static display of text, images, and extennal links
    • contact section: contact form that uses AWS API gateway, lambda function, and AWS email services to receive ajax request and forward the ajax payload to an email address
    • news feed (TODO): an updateable section with revolving content, built using AWS API gateway and the simple json storage offered within gateway services

Architecture and Libraries

  • I tore apart the original design template, created by khaitawngkhai, converting the html to pug, re-organizing the css and converting it into scss syntax (TODO: cleanup and clarify).
  • Pug (formerly Jade) was chosen for
    • Clean templating syntax
    • Ability to use variables in the templates and populate the template via compilation with json files
    • Ability to create a javacript function that takes a javascript object as a parameter and creates data-populated markup
    • Ability to create a 'master' index.pug (or main-page.pug in this code) and include the separate pug files created for each section of the site
  • The source code is set up with a js folder, json-data folder, pug folder, and scss
  • My client uses Latex, a typsetting system commonly used in the scientific community, that relies on a .bib file as a list of publication references. I found a nice bib-to-json parser written by Mayank Lahiri that let me use my client's .bib file to convert his publications into json. I created a custom build script to make adjustments to the publication data.
  • Custom build scripts are set up to do the following:
    • getJsonContent - compiles the separate json files that exist for each section of the site into.
    • compilePugWithContent - uses pug.renderFile to compile the index.pug file with the jsonContent to create the index.html file
    • createDataModel - creates a .js file to contain data in a data model for any data that is need for client-side rendering of a pug function
    • processPublicationEntries - this method is run after the .bib file is converted to json, taking care of fixing capitalization, separating selected journal papers from 'the rest'
  • A number of common npm modules are used to compile scss, lint, uglify, and watch all code files
  • A watch:all npm script command is executed to watch and compile the code during development. Since .json files do not take comments, I had to be creative in include comments with keys starting with // item. Messy, but functional, and a nice challenge to see if an npm-only build process was doable and easy to use.


In rough order of necessity.

  • Get additional content from client: 1. minimal content needed for an informative, visually satisfying site
  • Decide on final design for group members section, not fully satisfied with this section (this section I created, was not part of purchased template)
  • Fix mobile issues (how to handle desktop hover effects, modals, decide if content should be reduced)
  • Get additional content from client: 2. final content for full experience and full research project description
  • Add dynamic news section using AWS API Gateway and AWS storage
  • Automate updates: when client updates content files in S3 bucket, the build process should be triggered via lambda function and new build files to saved to S3 bucket