Last update at : Fri Apr 28 8:18:26 1995

Research and Academic Networks: The Emerging Tower of Babel

Research and Academic Networks: The Emerging Tower of Babel

April 26, 1995

Irving A. Lerch,


The emergence of the "infobahn" has widened the separation of the physical sciences into the connected and disconnected. The vitality of the international scientific enterprise is dependent upon open and facile communications. The unprecedented development of the Internet in the US was accelerated when academic and scientific users were given subsidized access. Yet contrary policies of other governments are choking off communication elsewhere. In Russia, only those few groups with proprietary connections to land lines or satellite ground stations have reasonable, if impeded, admittance. In China, the academic and research communities are virtually excluded from the high-capacity optical cables connecting with Japan. Thus for many potential users, the network connections are tenuous or nonexistent, largely restricted to dial-up protocols. The UNESCO working group on networking and telecommunications has been examining ways to support and integrate the efforts of others: the International Science Foundation and UN in Ukraine and Russia, the OSA in Latin America, bilateral programs in China and elsewhere in Asia, and--most important--the exploitation of the many programs and activities of users groups and learned societies. Resources are being sought to support the training of networking specialists and users in the the former Soviet Union, China and Africa. International learned society contacts have been encouraged such as between the Chinese and American Physical Societies whereby mirrored bulletin board exchanges have been set up to facilitate coordination on joint collaborations.


1 The Working Groups of the UNESCO Physics Action Council

2 The US and Chinese Physics Community Collaborations

3 The UN Pilot Network Project for Ukraine

4 The Role of the International Science Unions

Author Information

1 The Working Groups of the UNESCO Physics Action Council

Federico Mayor, the Director General of UNESCO, has acted to strengthen the scientific programs of the Organization with the appointment of a Physics Action Council.

The Council is responsible for advising UNESCO on the shape and implementation of physics programs designed to promote the widest possible participation of the world's physicists in the international physics enterprise. It pursues its goals with Working Groups drawn from the wider international community. The initial focus of these groups has been on opening large physics facilities to international collaboration, widening access to literature and electronic telecommunications and improving physics education.

1.1 Working Group on Telecommunications and Networking

The Working Group on telecommunications and networking is charged with studying ways for enhancing communications among all physicists and will pay particular attention to the means for tying scientists together into networks of local and global communities. Because of the continuing importance of the traditional print literature, the Working Group will also seek programs to improve the availability of physics journals in all countries were access is restricted, with particular attention to electronic distribution and publishing. The Working Group will make recommendations on electronic networks for communications, access to scientific information and research transactions, electronic publishing, bulletin boards, special computing facilities and technologies suitable for use in developing countries (where the power and communications grids are inadequate or non-existent). The Working Group will seek to exploit existing national and international programs currently underway in Eastern and Central Europe, the Baltic States and the Newly Independent States of the Former Soviet Union by either extending their reach or by supplementing them with other resources. It will especially seek to extend such programs into the southern tier of developing nations. The report and activities of this working group will form the basis for a world-wide conference of scientists, government representatives and communications experts to promote access to electronic networks in support of science. The Working Group will further assist and advise UNESCO on the access and use of electronic networks.

1.2 Working Group Recommendations

At its last meeting in January, the Working Group focussed on four areas:

The Working Group recommended that the following steps be implemented:

2 The US and Chinese Physics Community Collaborations--

prepared in part by Les Cottrell, Stanford; Bebo White, Stanford; Xu Rongsheng, Institute of High Energy Physics, Beijing; Fred Wilson, Rochester Institute of Technology

In October 1994, the American Physical Society signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese Physical Society which was endorsed in a separate codicil by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the State Education Commission. One program of this MOU was the setting up of a joint telecommunications committee to facilitate communications between the two physics communities. To supplement a long-standing program of collaboration among their high-energy physicists (with the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center on one side and the Beijing Institute of High Energy Physics on the other), a set of mirrored Netnews servers was commissioned at both SLAC and IHEP to serve as a broad-based bulletin board. Thus a program of training, small equipment procurements and similar modest steps will be needed to promote wider access for Chinese scholars. Currently, roughly 1000 Chinese physicists have access, largely through dial-up connections to the national academic and research network. By 1996, we expect to have 4,000 Chinese scientists on line.

2.1 Mirrored Netnews Servers

A Sun server was set up at IHEP in March provided by Sunsite (to give them a WWW site in China). The server is equipped with a 10 GB disk (2GB are reserved for Sunsite).

The proposed hierarchy of APS/CPS groups will consist of an entry-level apscps.general "welcome" conference which will contain "hot topics," basic instructions, pointers and other general information items. Four general conferences will be appended:,, apscps.resources and for additional topics as needed. The conference will be read only and will be connected to topical groups, announcements, travel information and other informal sources. The forum conferences will be read/write and moderated in support of technical exchanges. The resources will be data bases and pointers as needed.

In the "Welcome Conference" one of the notes will deal with email directories to facilitate direct contacts. Other basic services will be stressed owing to the lack of experience of the Chinese community.

As an example, suppose a Chinese physicist wished to post a question about YAG lasers. She/he would first address the apscps.general and "signup," i.e. get moderator approval for accessing the system. Following a welcome message from the moderator, she would then enter apscps.general and get a brief orientation. The orientation would tell her that to post questions she should request to "add entry" which would allow her to read/write to that group. A topic line should be in each message which, in the Netnews format would allow for searches, or simple directory listings to see what is available.

Most sites in China will not be able to use WWW at the outset. Basic WWW instructions will be included although Netnews will remain the basis for the system.

2.2 Server Hierarchy

The initial conference, apscps.general, will therefore be "subscribable" to anyone, but not "writable." News items will be posted by the moderator:

The functionality of the APS-CPS BBS is obtained using electronic mailing lists (listservers) and Usenet (Netnews) newsgroups. There is also support for users of the World-Wide Web (WWW). A proposed hierarchy of newsgroups has been written and circulated for review. The naming convention proposed for these newsgroups is "" where "xxx" and "yyy" represent specific group sub-hierarchies in typical Netnews fashion. These newsgroups will be mirrored in mailing lists with names of the form "apscps-xxx-yyy."

2.3 Communications Operations

The recommended technique for making a contribution to one of the BBS topic areas (newsgroups/mailing lists) is via e-mail. In isolated circumstances, it is also possible to make contributions using Netnews clients.

The text of a contribution is sent by e-mail to the appropriate mailing list (e.g., These mailing lists are closed which means that their subscription lists are controlled by the list owner. It is expected that the primary list subscribers will be other mailing lists at remote sites thereby enabling mail to be distributed most efficiently. The mailing lists are also moderated which means that all contributions are sent to a moderator for approval prior to distribution. The moderator's role is to check the suitability of the contribution.

Upon approval by the moderator, the contribution follows three paths. In the first of these paths, it is distributed to the subscribers to the mailing list. E-mail is the "least common denominator" for the dissemination of contributions. The second path is to a Netnews (NNTP) server where the contribution is inserted as a news article into the corresponding newsgroup (contributions to the list apscps-test are added to apscps.test). In the third path the contribution is archived. The contents of this archive are visible via mailing list specific commands issued via e-mail. As contributions are added to the archive they are also automatically converted to HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) form and made available to WWW users (contributions to apscps-test can be viewed at URL ).

This model allows contributions to the BBS to be read by all users with access to electronic mail (including UUCP connections). It also allows contributions to be read using Netnews clients if the user has access to a Netnews server which "carries" the "apscps" newsgroups. Users with full Internet connectivity and access to WWW clients would be able to read contributions using those clients. This three methods allow access to the greatest possible audience. However, as stated earlier, the recommended method for making contributions (i.e., posting to the BBS) is with e-mail.

3 The UN Pilot Network Project for Ukraine--

prepared in part by Bogdan Lisovich, UN Office, Kiev and Viacheslav Shkarupin, ISF, Kiev

In 1992, the UN office in Ukraine began implementation of a pilot network program in order to confront the lack of a telecommunications infrastructure. In terms of information, Ukraine is an "LIC:" a least-informed country. Typically, email was delayed from 12 to 24 hours, where available. Costs were excessive further depreciating access. In order to acquire "cyber sovereignty" for Ukraine, the UN Kiev office sought recommendations from the International Research Exchanges Board. Essentially these recommendations included promoting the construction of a national backbone feeding a distributed network of key nodes.

3.1 The UN Initiative

Several interim technologies will be exploited to extend access:

  • 100 high-capacity (100 kbs) modems designed to operate on the noisy Ukrainian telephone net and available from fSU producers at a cost of approximately US$130 will be used to widen dial-up services and

  • amateur radio links will provide Internet access primarily for Ukrainian highschools.

    There are plans for additional links and most nodes will be based on RISC UNIX servers. This introduces a need for training courses on router programming, node implementation and maintenance, WWW and other server configurations, etc.

    Access for academic and research users is via the FreeNet. Traffic volume on the FreeNet is doubling weekly. The UN role in support of this network has been to promote the development of access to the networks and to servers such as WWW, Gopher and WAIS.

    The Ukraine UN office sees a role for an integrated UN repository of vital information. Such a role could be assumed by UNESCO. An example of the importance for such activity is exemplified by the fact that the Ukraine Government now sees the need for widely distributing government decrees and laws electronically. This is in stark contrast to previous attitudes.

    3.2 The ISF Initiative

    The International Science Foundation (ISF) will seek to extend access through the installation of microwave relays. But a critical need is for books on networking, to include even the more dated journals.

    ISF has begun implementation of a telecommunications project with construction of the Kiev Pilot IP Network Backbone for the Academic and Research Community (UARNet - Ukrainian Academic and Research Network) which will be integrated into the Internet.

    The objective of the current project is to set up a star-structured backbone in Kiev connecting four major clusters of scientific institutions in the city at speeds up to 2 Mbps and to link this backbone to the Global Internet.

    The project will create a TCP/IP backbone in Kiev with four nodes which will link these clusters to each other and to the Global Internet, to demonstrate the possibilities of on-line communications and to provide the scientific institutions in the clusters around the node with worldwide connectivity.

    3.3 Broader Access

    Other purposes of the project are to raise the awareness of the scientific and academic communities, as well as the general public, of the possibilities of networking and to provide training to end-users and telecommunication specialists. Once the backbone is operational, existing networks and network organizations will be welcomed to participate in the project.

    Simultaneously with setting up the local infrastructure, international access to the Global Internet will be provided. The implementation of such a link will make available low cost access to Internet resources for several clusters of major scientific, research and educational organizations in Kiev. Dial- up access will be available for end-users from the scientific/ educational community and for the general public.

    Further infrastructure development will lead to wider spread of the TCP/IP network and will involve the major existing networks in Kiev. This will provide low-cost access to Internet resources, not only to the scientific community, but to medical establishments, libraries, high schools, industrial research institutions, etc. We expect that other networks belonging to different organizations will thus have an incentive to integrate, interconnect and develop.

    Another important component in the realization of the project is the development of education and research programs to be run on the network. These should be targeted at implementing new networking technologies to serve as a resource for network development [to both assure network viability and to support its operations (professional staffing, technology)]. The research program will also help to establish the present and future non-commercial status of the network and will serve as an incentive for the government to provide funding for its support. The research programs will be distributed among regional centers (which will also play an important role in working out network policies), permitting backbone operations to be separated from policy considerations so that support can be directed to backbone activities.

    The research program of the network will also hasten the adoption of the technology and networking services by scientific and educational organizations. It will accelerate the adaptation of the technology to local conditions and promote the creation of alternative networking infrastructures compatible with global networks and with the principles established by the developed networking communities.

    In the first stage, in order to accelerate the construction of the pilot network in Kiev, the project will be implemented jointly by the ISF and the UN in cooperation with the State Committee for Science and Technology and other state committees on information technologies and telecommunications. ISF will first install the transport infrastructure and then set up a satellite link to the Global Internet. The UN office in Kiev will provide international access in the first stage. State programs will support implementation, enroll participating organizations and provide integration and coordination for joint efforts.

    In the second stage, ISF together with other interested organizations, will upgrade the existing satellite link to the Global Internet. This will serve as a basis for providing access to the Internet via satellite for other big scientific centers in Ukraine (such as Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Odessa, Crimea, etc).

    The underlying concept for connecting potential users in Kiev, is connectivity to compact clusters located in selected scientific and educational centers. Access will be provided to one organization in each cluster so that the Regional Distribution Centers will constitute the Network Backbone structure. Then access inside clusters for other organizations will be provided by the interested organizations themselves.

    3.4 The Role of the Physical Societies

    The largest reservoir of expertise within Ukraine capable of quickly mastering the technology, providing programming and management expertise and organizing training courses is the physical science community. The physics departments and institutes in Kiev, Kharkov, Donetsk, Lviv, Odessa and elsewhere have already begun tapping into the Internet through services provided by Relcom.

    To develop the modern informational services and to provide Ukrainian scientists and educators with full excess to the services of global networks, the Ukrainian Physical Society is establishing its own node.

    The central objective for this program is the development and implementation of modern information media for science, education and business for individuals, state and non-governmental organizations.

    The physics community intends to create technical means and organizational bases to provide the different categories of users with access to the global computer network by developing a separate Telecommunication Center and providing network services, assigned to users with different skills.

    Thus training courses will be implemented for both users and technical managers beginning in the Fall of 1995. The courses will be conducted in collaboration with the UN and ISF and will be broadened to include the larger academic and research communities.

    4 The Role of the International Science Unions

    The International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) is one of 20 disciplinary unions, including the ITU, which are members of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU). Each member country interacts with each union through its national adherence bodies. The national adherence body in the US for most of the ICSU member unions is the National Academy of Sciences. And the Academy provides for adherence to ITU, IUPAP and the other unions through national committees, commonly referred to as the US Liaison Committee to the given union. Committee members are approved by the Chair of the National Research Council.

    Thus, there is a connection between the international scientific unions, the various national academies, and the representative learned and professional societies.

    In addition, there is a relationship between ICSU and UNESCO. UNESCO provides both funds and sponsorship for ICSU activities.

    Within the physics community, the increasing reliance on computer-mediated telecommunications has caused the disciplinary commissions of IUPAP to consider the many-faceted dependencies of physics researchers and institutions on standards, access, security and many other subjects associated with the emerging global information infrastructure. The commissions treating the needs of high-energy and nuclear physics have been especially active.

    There is a need for all users to coordinate their use of this wildly developing resource and it is my position that the structure exists for the user and provider communities to join with the unions through their national adherence bodies.

    Author Information

    Irving A. Lerch

    Director of International Affairs for the American Physical Society. Chairman, Working Group on Telecommunicationa and Networking, UNESCO Physics Action Council. Member of UNESCO/PAC. Member of the US Liaison Committee to the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics. Member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility. Professor of Medical Physics, New York University (retired). Graduated from the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York in 1960. Received a MS in 1966 and a Ph.D. in 1969 from the University of Chicago. Formerly First Officer, Dosimetry Section, Division of Life Sciences, International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna. Served on the Founders Board and US Advisory Panel for the International Science Foundation. Served on the Governing Board for the American Center for Physics. Consultant Technical Expert for the International Atomic Energy Agency and the World Health Organization.

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