Wired In

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

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.

New Inside Illinois e-mail address

E-mail to Inside Illinois should be directed to a new address,
insideil@illinois.edu. Any mail sent to the old address will bounce back to the
sender and not be forwarded. Please make a note and send all calendar
entries, brief announcements or inquiries to this new address. The editor,
Doris Dahl, can be contacted at d-dahl2@illinois.edu; the paper's mailing
address, phone and fax numbers remain the same. 

UIUC -- Inside Illinois -- 1996/04-18-96