Science board mulls cyber infrastructure
- By Paula Shaki Trimble
- Aug 28, 2000
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
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?"