Allison Loperfido and Michael Grafton
Editor, Science Writing Intern
Cornell Theory Center
Ithaca, NY 14853-3801 USA
v: (607) 254-8641
f: (607) 254-8888
Research, academic; Research, government; Research, commercial
Innovative or improved ways of doing things; Creation of new ideas, products, or services; Technology transfer; Partnerships between public and private sector
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Internet Collaboration Facilitates Innovative Science Collaboration Relying on the Internet and access to the powerful supercomputers available at the Cornell Theory Center, the Global Basins Research Network (GBRN) is a major scientific initiative involving a consortium of university partners and corporate affiliates. GBRN has created a distributed network of scientists working to understand the coupled physical and chemical processes that control the movement of oil and gas in sedimentary basins.
GBRN is a model for collaborative research which depends entirely on a network’s ability to transmit vast amounts of data between the member institutions. This type of networked collaboration includes the notion that each researcher has simultaneous access to everybody else’s data, thereby allowing distant researchers to communicate scientific information `in real time’, and to develop applications which are fed from or which feed into applications developed by others. The enormity of this project was unthinkable prior to recent developments in networking and parallel processing technology.
In this instance, the network has provided these scientists with a sort of electronic blackboard, one on which everyone involved shares their ideas. The information shared, however, transcends simple electronic- mail messages; the researchers send multicast visual images, run code, and share output in real time. In an interdisciplinary, interorganizational fashion, the network access is offering GBI!!N researchers an electronic, virtual laboratory in which to continue their leading-edge investigations.
A major task of the GBRN has been to compile an electronic data set that describes the geophysical, stratigraphic, structural, and geochemical status of a portion of the Gulf Coast which represents the processes being studied. The richness and complexity of this data set has allowed the most complicated, integrated models to be fully tested for the first time. Work has moved ahead on a high-quality geological database that cost the industry billions of dollars to collect and describes the physical and chemical conditions of the Gulf Coast Basin.
The GBRN, which includes partners from both academia and industry, is a excellent example of how information/data sharing on the Internet can result in successful technology transfer and partnerships between the public and private sector. The university partners include, in addition to the Cornell Theory Center, the Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory, Louisiana State University, and others. Corporate affiliations include, but are not limited to, Chevron, EXXON, AMOCO, and British Petroleum. Overall there are more than 15 active participants in the network from academia, oil companies, and other industries.
Essentially the GBRN is a prototype organization, one of the many ways in which the scientific community is using the networks to explore innovative ways of achieving scientific collaboration. It requires that participants visualize tremendous amounts of geographically widespread data and compare it to output from integrated models. This means that in order to share ideas, geographically isolated researchers working on pieces of a problem must work together over an interactive network, above and beyond the simple sending of text messages. The network simply acts as a channeler of the information; it is an extremely powerful tool by which GBRN achieves its breakthroughs, and by which other novel scientific networks will operate in the future.