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Researchers use internet for global collaboration

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September 12, 1994 Share This!

RICHLAND, Wash. — The computer beeps, you punch a key and up pops the latest research paper on hazardous waste. Quickly you punch another key, and a research peer 2,000 miles away smiles at you and says hello. Simultaneously you both begin analyzing and discussing the paper, which has been placed on an electronic white board. You then pull up the latest molecular model you've been developing and transfer it to your peer's screen. A scientific collaboration in cyberspace -- fiction no, reality very soon.

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest Laboratory are using the Internet, a global computer network, and a variety of new electronic communication tools to help build a laboratory without walls. This new type of laboratory, called a collaboratory, will electronically link researchers who are geographically separated, establishing a collaborative culture for scientists in the theoretical, computational and experimental molecular sciences across the nation.

The collaboratory will use the Internet to link researchers and provide them with the necessary tools to see and hear each other, exchange notes, explore databases of scientific information, examine the latest published research and simultaneously view information on the same computer screen.

PNL's collaboratory may allow researchers, educators and students to share experiences and knowledge through a process called telementoring. Telementoring would allow students at universities and colleges to seek advice and provide input to researchers in the field from a computer in their classroom. Telementoring also could be used by post-doctoral students working in the laboratory to discuss problems with their advisor who may be located in another building, state or even country. The post-doctoral student and advisor could simultaneously view the same computer screen containing the necessary data, graphics, or text to solve a problem.

"The collaboratory will establish and support an electronic community of scientists researching and developing innovative environmental preservation and restoration technologies," said Dick Kouzes, PNL staff scientist and collaboratory proponent.

Researchers at PNL are currently testing several computer programs and tools, including Mosaic, MBONES and Virtual Notebook System, that will become part of the collaboratory.


  • Mosaic is a graphical interface program developed at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. It incorporates a hypertext multimedia program that allows the user to display text, graphics, video and sound. Mosaic is available free to anyone with Internet access.
  • MBONES, or multicast backbone, is an audiovisual teleconferencing tool that allows geographically separated researchers to hold video conferences from their workstations. Along with video and audio capabilities, MBONES incorporates a shared whitespace where participants can simultaneously write and respond to notes. MBONES also is available free to Internet users.
  • Virtual Notebook System is a commercial application that allows participants to capture and store data and text created during a videconference, or shared analysis session.


The collaboratory will leverage the resources, both intellectual and physical, of DOE's new Environme ntal Molecular Sciences Laboratory by making them more accessible to remote researchers as well as by making the resources of remote sites available to local researchers.

The EMSL, operated for DOE by PNL, will be a national focus for the environmental and molecular science research communities. The new laboratory will house about 250 resident and visiting scientists in a 200,000-square-foot building located at the Hanford Site in eastern Washington. As a national collaborative research and technology laboratory, the EMSL will be part of DOE's high-performance computing network linked to other national laboratories, universities and industrial laboratories, allowing data and information generated in the EMSL to be shared electronically with the national and international scientific communities.

"A collaboratory workstyle is well aligned with the EMSL mission and is a natural extension of PNL's laboratory-without-walls concept," said Kouzes. "The intellectual and physical resources assembled in the EMSL, from the staff to the computers to the instruments, will be among the best in the world and will greatly enhance the collaboratory effort."

Tags: EMSL

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