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Establishing Global Communication Networks in Science

worldThe APS has been actively involved for some time in ongoing efforts to improve networking and Internet access for academic and research communities in developing countries, working in conjunction with UNESCO's Physics Action Council (PAC) Working Group 2 on establishing communication networks in science, as well as numerous other foreign societies and organizations. Efforts to date have largely focused on Central and Eastern European regions, as well as Ghana and Asia.

For example, the NATO Advanced Networking Workshop, held in October in St. Petersburg, Russia, was a joint program to develop and implement electronic communications. According to APS Director of International Affairs Irving Lerch, chair of the workshop's International Coordinating Committee and also its co-director, it is part of ongoing efforts to provide essential telecommunications to the academic and research communities of Russia, and to foster an independent and vigorous physics community. It is also intended to strengthen associations between the APS, the Euro-Asian Physical Society, and the academic institutes of Russia and their counterpart research universities and laboratories in the U.S.

Participants were invited from throughout Russia as well as from Ukraine and Belarus, representing 25 academic and research communities in Russia and an additional seven institutions from those neighboring countries. The workshop consisted of two training tracks to orient node managers and their staffs, covering server set-up, router programming, node management, and network maintenance. In turn, these managers and technicians are expected to participate in regional and local training courses throughout Russia in 1997, in order to broaden expertise to node managers in university settings. Locations will include Novosibirsk, Yaroslavl, and Ekaterinburg, all current sites in the Open Society Institute Initiative to establish university Internet centers, funded by the Soros Foundation.

The workshop was organized by St. Petersburg State University, the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR), the Euro-Asian Physical Society, the APS, and Working Group 2 of UNESCO-PAC. Support was provided principally by NATO, with additional funds from the RFBR, the UNESCO-PAC working group, the International Science Foundation, and the Open Society Institute's University Internet Program.

Following the St. Petersburg workshop, Lerch traveled to Manila in the Philippines to moderate a panel discussion on Asian connectivity and accessibility of new technologies. The event was sponsored by the UNESCO-PAC working group as part of the conference on modern and innovative technologies for asian physics education organized by the Asian Physics Education Network. Panel participants included representatives from Australia, Japan, India, Sweden, Bangladesh, and the Philippines.

The St. Petersburg workshop is not an isolated effort. In association with the United Nations Development Programme and the International Telecommunications Union, the UNESCO-PAC working group is coordinating similar networking workshops in Ghana to provide technical training, starting this month. The training sites are the University of Ghana at Legon and Network Computer Systems of Ghana. According to Lerch, both sites will seek to supplement the existing commitments of government ministries to academic and research Internet access with corresponding commitments from other sectors of society: the private sector, universities, non-governmental organizations, the medical community, and both professional and learned organizations. Particular emphasis will be placed on gaining the collaboration and active commitment of the basic sciences and the wider scientific and research communities.

"The proliferation of organizations and programs aimed at providing Internet access for various international communities could result in dissipated resources, because of redundant or conflicting projects," said Lerch. "On the other hand, cooperation, coordination and collaboration among regional programs provides an opportunity for the sharing of experiences, information and resources."

To this end, representatives from the APS, UNESCO, the Open Society Institute, the Carnegie Corporation, and the New York Academy of Sciences, along with several other organizations, convened at Rockefeller University last July to help coordinate their respective efforts. The meeting was hosted by Joshua Lederberg, chair of UNESCO's International Advisory Council on Global Scientific Communication. The participants discussed the need to exchange information on regional activities and training programs and develop associations among regional programs.

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin