Science expo ------------- What happens when black holes collide? How do atmospheric scientists predict when and where a tornado will form? Why are scientists and business leaders using virtual reality tools to solve real-world problems? These are but a few of the questions that can be answered by visiting "Science for the Millennium," a World Wide Web site created by the UI's National Center for Supercomputing Applications and located at: http: //www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/Cyberia/Expo/. In effect, the site - which debuted in January - is a prototype, video-intensive, on-line science exposition, complete with pavilions, a high-tech theater and an information center. Created through the combined efforts of a diverse group of NCSA staff members and scientists, the site incorporates text, graphics and video to provide visitors with a self-paced, interactive environment for learning about science and technology. "From within the Expo home page, users can start at the Information Center, which includes general information about the exhibits, movies and reference materials, or go immediately to the Pavilion of Science and Industry, which houses three major exhibits on astronomy and astrophysics," said the Expo's project director David Curtis, of NCSA's education and outreach group. "Or, at the click of a mouse, visitors can head to the Pavilion of Computation, where they'll find an exhibit that explains what metacomputing is." A third pavilion, still under construction, demonstrates the value of collaborative research and highlights a wide range of projects involving scientists and researchers who are working cooperatively at universities, laboratories and other institutions nationwide. "Currently, the online Science Expo focuses chiefly on astronomy and astrophysics and the extensive resources needed for advanced scientific computing," Curtis said. "However, the Expo's coverage may be extended to other important - or so-called 'grand challenge' - areas in science and engineering." In addition, he said, the interactivity of some of the exhibits is expected to be enhanced in the future "through emerging Web tools and technologies such as Java, Virtual Reality Mark Up Language (VRML), streamed media and video hyperlinking." Curtis said the project was developed to serve "first and foremost as a showcase for NCSA science and technology research and development." For that reason, "our intended audiences are broad and encompass government, industry, education and the wider public," he said. While some of the information is highly technical, much of it is presented in a format that is accessible to what Curtis calls "an important secondary audience" - high school and undergraduate students. For example, this summer the Expo will be used in conjunction with a Hands-On Universe workshop for high school science teachers and hosted by NCSA's Resource for Science Education Program. HOU, a project sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy, is designed to help high school students perform authentic astronomical research in the classroom. The summer workshop will be directed by a staff member from Chicago's Adler Planetarium; participating teachers will access material, including the Expo, locally via the Internet. The Expo's major science exhibits are also beginning to be used as learning resources for undergraduate instruction; for instance, Michael Norman uses the Expo in the course "Perspectives in Anatomy," designed for non-science majors. Although its developers continue to enhance the site with new materials and technologies, the Expo already has gained recognition from the Web world. In February, it received NBNSOFT's Content Award, and in March, The New Scientist magazine included the Expo in its listing of Hot Spots on the Web. The Expo also has been selected as a pavilion in the United States section of the Internet 1996 World Exposition. Curtis said that like the World Exposition, Science for the Millennium "incorporates designs reminiscent of the great world fairs of the past in order to express a futuristic outlook on technology, heralding our passage into the information age." Virtual Classroom Interface ------------------------------- The tools of the World Wide Web offer exciting opportunities to create innovative instruction and add significant value to traditional modes of classroom teaching. However, it takes a lot of time and effort to create and maintain basic class home pages on the Web. The Virtual Classroom Interface (VCI) system will allow faculty members to easily post and maintain content such as syllabi, assignments and other information for their students. A beta version of VCI will be announced and demonstrated at 2 p.m. May 2 in 228 Natural History. After the event, faculty members will be able to link to the VCI home page to evaluate its suitability for their own use. By mid-summer a full release version of VCI will be available for routine creation and maintenance of class home pages. While faculty should be aware that their needs may go beyond the capabilities of the VCI, the system offers an easy method for creating basic home pages. VCI is being designed as a scalable system that can potentially handle hundreds of class home pages. VCI is sponsored by the Instructional Network Initiative, a project of the Educational Technologies Board. 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