TITLE: NSF MetaCenter Computational Science Highlights

ACCESS: http://www.tc.cornell.edu/Research/MetaScience/

Other addresses: http://www.ucar.edu/docs/MetaSoft
http://www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/SCMS/Metascience/Home/welcome.html
http://pscinfo.psc.edu/MetaCenter/MetaScience/welcome.html
http://www.sdsc.edu/MetaScience/welcome.html

This Web site is the collaborative effort of five NSF-supported supercomputing centers: The Cornell Theory Center (CTC), National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), Pittburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC), and San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC). Its aim is to serve as a distributed repository of multimedia science reports and articles, including graphics, sounds and video animations, with appeal to a non-technical audience. More specifically, the collection contains descriptions of selected research projects which have used the NSF's supercomputing resources. A February 1995 NSF Press Release noted report topics ranging from "modeling flow in the human heart" to "simulating the behavior of cancer genes" to "Comet Shoemaker-Levy's impact on Jupiter" to "high-resolution animation of the general circulation of the North Atlantic." The supporting NSF installations use a shared, automated indexing system, allowing each contributing center to develop and maintain its own documents, but allowing each site access to all contributed documents through keyword searches and browsing.

Exploration of Computational Science Highlights revealed that it does contain some very impressive resources and features, including sound (all reports contain images), and some excellent video animations (which due to size may be slow to download even to a 486 pc). Librarians will no doubt appreciate the classification of reports by the NSF's Fields of Science codes. Reports seem to include standard fields - many of them hot links - for researchers' names and affiliations, hardware and software used, subject keywords, references, acknowledgements, credits, and related material available on the Web.

This site has some weaknesses of note. The first is that it is simply confusing. There are five different URLs, corresponding to the five supercomputing centers, and one of these links (to NCAR) has already moved. And while the MetaCenter claims to provide "a unified national resource," searchers will in fact find that their results vary from site to site. One site showed 128 articles available, while others showed 167. These numbers also reflect the lack of breadth of substance of the database. The creators do state that Computational Highlights describe "_some_ of the (NSF's) 10,000 scientific research projects," and in the fact the 167 articles found were all that are indexed and available at this writing. So while the records that populate the collection are individually very rich, the collection itself is still quite small, containing just highlights.

Finally, there are some problems with the design of the home page. One

is invited to browse by field of science or by keyword, but clicking on highlit text sends one off to a dead-end list of information at the San Diego site (which is often down), whereas clicking on a highlit button with the same label provides one with a successful connection at the Cornell Site to additional hypertext information. It's unclear what the different search options are supposed to offer, and why they are inconsistent.

Developers hope for future enhancements to the Computational Science Hightlights, including new contributors and full-text search/indexing of articles. The MetaCenter has the potential to be an outstanding source of science data with some adjustments to its organization and interface, and a boost of new records to its database.

Judith A. Matthews
Physics-Astronomy Library
Michigan State University
matthews@msupa.pa.msu.edu
5/22/95


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