Cyberinfrastructure brings resources to small towns

Kesha Williams
January 11, 2008

Guests participating in CyberinfrastructureDays at ECSU brought encouraging news for citizens, students and instructors in Elizabeth City. The guests came from private and public agencies that offer a variety of information technology services and products. They reported the use of computers, software, sensors and human knowledge involved in cyberinfrastructure is removing many of the barriers that once limited citizens' ability to explore topics outside their geographic location. According to Dr. Geoffrey Fox, a professor of computer science, informatics and physics at Indiana University, cyberinfrastructure is a means of linking people, computers and data across the globe for the greater human fulfillment. Fox explained cyberinfrastructure is relevant for small towns because those citizens can access assorted types of information and data files from personal computers that previously were accessible solely in other locations. "Small towns can retain the qualities of their towns yet offer their citizens information that is stored in big cities such as Washington D.C.," Fox said. "Citizens living in small towns, with the right infrastructure, can access the information they need and exchange it with people living and working elsewhere. With cyberinfrastructure, they become active participants in external discussions, research projects and more without leaving their small towns." Fox explained the uses of cyberinfrastructure are endless and will allow researchers from all walks of life to gather information they need to make the decisions most relevant to their lifestyle or profession. Most important, the researcher's location is no longer a barrier to the information gathering process. Examples of common uses of cyberinfrastructure follow: Local science teachers and their students can use computers to track the changes at the North Pole and apply the information to their classroom discussions. Individuals can use computers to make close up views of city or county maps posted on the internet or view and interact with instructional materials posted on the website of a particular university. Consumers can use computers to view and read about common features associated with a particular brand of vehicle, lawn equipment, or appliance as posted on the respective company web sites. They can also read reviews written by customers who already own the merchandise. They can also read and contribute to reviews written by customers who already own the merchandise. College students can use computers to track changes occurring along neighboring coastlines and relay the information in their reports of diminishing plant or animal species. Police officers can use computers to check a suspect's criminal record as it appears in the criminal record files of another state. A musician can use computers to quickly send an originally recorded song stored on her computer to relatives' or colleagues' computers located in another state or country. Dr. Linda Hayden, director of the ECSU Center of Excellence in Remote Sensing Education and Research, welcomed the information technology guests to campus for their two-day presentations to ECSU faculty. Hayden said cyberinfrastructure is an investment in the university's ability to conduct research. She credits the National Science Foundation with funding cyberinfrastructure so polar ice researchers can process and evaluate data they've collected on current projects. Although Hayden and several ECSU students have been involved in polar ice research for years, she is happy the technology is not limited to scientific research. Professors and students in the arts, business, education, social and physical sciences will benefit from these technological advances. They are bringing critical technological resources available in metropolitan areas to rural areas such as northeast North Carolina. Fox said, students who learn to use cyberinfrastructure will have such good information gathering skills they will qualify for future higher paying jobs.