Science board mulls cyber infrastructure

The changing environment of academic research has prompted the National

Science Board to consider a study of the cyber infrastructure needed to

ensure continuing U.S. leadership in science and engineering.

Past surveys of the National Science and Engineering Infrastructure

have focused on "bricks and mortar." Today the environment in which research

is done is a more virtual laboratory, said National Science Foundation Director

Rita Colwell during an Aug. 3 meet-ing of the board, which governs NSF.

Colwell believes the agency should be look-ing five to 10 years down the

road at the nation's science and engineering needs.

Because old definitions and directives don't recognize information technology

as infrastructure, it might be time for the board to rethink the concept

of a government-supported National Science and Engineering Infrastructure,

said Joseph Bordogna, NSF deputy director.

An important part of a study, if conducted, would be defining the terms,

such as infrastructure and tools, as well as defining who is responsible

for cyber infrastructure, Bordogna said.

Included in a newly defined infrastructure might be advanced computing

resources; digital libraries; shared data and information bases; research

and education networks; distributed user facilities; and standards and protocols.

Under a congressional mandate, NSF conducts a biennial "Survey of Scientific

and Engineering Research Facilities," but the survey doesn't collect information

on information technology, noted Leslie Christovich, director of the academic

infrastructure project at NSF.

The survey, conducted in partnership with the National Institutes of

Health, takes a close look at research facilities at colleges and universities

that spend $150,000 or more annually on research and development. It asks

how much research space the institutions have, how much of that space is

devoted to science and engineering, what condition the space is in, whether

there is enough space available, how much construction of new research space

is planned, and what types of repairs and renovations are needed.

NSF just completed the 1999 survey of "bricks and mortar" at about 550

colleges and universities. It also surveyed some 300 more institutions that

serve as research hospitals and biomedical research organizations.

"Nowhere do we ask about issues the board discussed, such as shared

databases or cyberspace," Christovich said. "Those are definitely topics

we are considering how to handle in the future, but it's not going to be

easy."

That's because some of the characteristics of virtual research space

will especially complicate any measurements, she said. Virtual space is

often shared, for instance. "With all that virtual space, who do you ask?"

Christovich said.

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