INNOVATIVE APPROACHES AND OPPORTUNITIES

Programs of the future will be less constrained by geography. A variety of developments in modern communication technology might improve interdisciplinary training by decreasing institutional and geographical barriers. These include advances in Internet communication, electronic journals, and real-time, low-cost telecommunication abilities.

The opportunities of electronic publishing could greatly increase the accessibility of information from diverse fields (although some have expressed concerns about the dangers of this broad dissemination without adequate peer review; see Relman, 199916). Many journals already provide full text on line, allowing access to articles in many disciplines. Publishing on line can go beyond simple text and figures. The capability exists to include complex data in the form of “Java applets,” which are computer programs or models that run on a Web browser.3 The inclusion of links to related papers can yield a network of cross-disciplinary information for interested readers.

Those advances can reduce information-based barriers to the furthering of interdisciplinary research. However, the value of the enormous and growing databases will be in proportion to the ease with which information can be accessed and categorized appropriately. Improved, consumer-friendly search engines are a must for the use of these information resources by the widest possible audience. Current search engines for Web-based searches and for literature-based searches can miss pertinent references and obscure relevant data in a cloud of extraneous citations.

Videoconferences and virtual meetings could become increasingly important for conducting interdisciplinary research. The falling costs of individual cameras for PC-based platforms can enhance communication by allowing real-time transmission of video and auditory images. The growing access to Internet II, the next generation of Internet technology, allows broadband transmission of conferences and lectures. Lectures by world experts in any field could potentially be provided on the Web and made available to people interested in expanding their horizons. Already, for instance, the National Institute of Mental Health has a Web site presenting some of the symposia that it sponsors.12

The Internet is important not only for distance learning and virtual meetings, but also for making possible the sharing of data and analytic equipment over long distances. A program at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) plans to make a high-voltage electron microscope accessible to researchers throughout the country.5 Specimens sent to UCSD will be inserted into the microscope by local personnel but scanned by the remote investigator through an Internet link. Further processing, such as three-dimensional reconstruction by tomography, can be accomplished on line through a link to a supercomputer. Equipment too expensive for many investigators to own thereby becomes accessible. Shared laboratory access through the Internet for education



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