Roger Frost takes a world tour around Internet sites of special scientific interest. It's massive and growing fast the Internet huge banks of information and strange new ways of communicating. As a case study of exponential growth this is a stunning one. No, it's not time to down data-loggers and crack your CD-Roms. It is time to wonder what now, or when or how as yet another vision of the microchip age starts to take shape.
The big attraction on the Internet is the "World Wide Web" where you can read, watch and interact with pages on the screen. You can go to a search page, type in "Wildlife" and find nearly 100 pages. Or you can find a "home" or menu page and browse through other people's selections. You will easily find the "Nine Planets" pages reams of data and pictures about Saturn, for instance, and about its moon Titan as well.
"It's like a book isn't it?" I said to Jo Quinton-Tulloch at the Science Museum. "It's not just a book," she answered, "it's more like a book you've chosen from all the libraries in the world." Actually it's more than this more like owning a pile of CD-Rom discs, with regular deliveries of today's sun spots, Kobe earthquake seismograph or news before it hits the television. CD-Rom systems could even become redundant when they've built a superhighway a new Internet with much more bandwidth (information carrying ability). If that happens, you might interview scientists live, watch a nature reserve, access a you-wannit, you've-got-it world resource.
But with today's Internet, you can start at Research Machines' pages by typing a little "voodoo" (see panel) into the computer. Then you click on the human body project where you'll see slices through a real one. Click on space telescopes and the image from the Hubble telescope. Click on botany, chemistry, physics . . . you'll find masses. You don't have to pay RM to browse here, though if you do, you can post your own pages or projects and gain an international audience overnight.
The BBC science page is a good starter too - there's not masses but I'd give it an award for writing something about each reference. From here you can get to San Francisco's Exploratorium to see some optical illusions (juniors), and from there to other sites providing daily seismographs, weather and space data. Stop off at the Franklin Institute and take a tour round the heart.
Museum pages are everywhere: the Natural History Museum in London has on-line exhibits and also links to other museums. You will find rare information on the diets of wildlife or you can try The Froggy Page with a button that goes "gribbit" or access the advanced level "mini-encyclopedia" in Washington.
If you want to see some real, if bizarre, measuring and control, you can visit the bath and refrigerator connected to the Internet. You can see if the fridge light is on, whether the door is open and what the temperature is. You can check the temperature of the bath or even wave, using a robot arm, to the cat. You get to choose the kind of wave too a royal wave, a tidal wave, or a sine wave!
This is a breezy tour some things to do with a new toy. In real life, the toy is certainly good for finding things out and it's great as a stimulus for further work. The place to start is a search or a good topic index if you find one. Mind you, as fast as you find interesting stuff, there's dull stuff too.
There are other ways of using the Net using communication channels like "mail" and "chat". How about getting the pupils to simulate a space shuttle launch? Robert Morgan at University School, Ohio, will even launch one for you. He chooses a date and then invites schools to sign up.
The pupils could become the mission control, a docking station or be in the shuttle itself. He then feeds everyone with news or problems which the children have to solve. The pupils can even feed the system with emergencies.
In the run-up to the big launch, children might train as astronauts, investigate disorientation (using a spinning office chair) or be interviewed by the "Press". During the mission they do experiments, check their blood pressure or make a freeze-dried meal. They even "chat" live with the other schools on the mission. And there are curriculum spin-offs, where they study geotropism in plants, or check the risk of solar flares before a space walk.
Pupils can get satellite pictures from space and check the conditions before a launch. They can read a report on why the Challenger shuttle went wrong. They can take a look through the telescope at Bradford, search through its library of pictures or ask the telescope people to look at something they want.
As Robert Morgan says, "Many of the concepts children struggle with disappear when they see a practical application. Newton's Laws of Motion come alive when they try to dock with a satellite in orbit".
Space, you come to realise, is the big thing in the US curriculum. That it is done to excess is to be expected. But the imagination and scope here is good. See the panel (right) to get on the next flight or pick up some worksheets.
Until now, Campus 2000, the schools on-line service, has been the medium for our own collaborative projects such as the National Environmental Database. Schools gather environmental data, send it in and use the collected effort to study the national picture. This could go world-wide next term when CampusWorld starts an Internet service.
The daily buzz of the Internet is in the discussion or news groups. There are thousands on offer, and misc.education.science is one of the places you might post a question or answer or just "find things". News groups are anarchic and unpredictable. But there are teachers sharing work they've tried, and there is often someone thinking the same thing as you, and sometimes they're a think or two ahead.
More anarchic still is the rec.pyrotechnics news group. Here is the fascinating applied science of fireworks, ballistics, pipe bombs and nerve gas. It's one of many places to brush up on your chemistry, but it is all "don't try this at school" stuff born-again safety officers will not like the answer to, "How can I send an oil drum into orbit", so be warned.
Stephen Baines of Long Eaton School, Nottingham, found surer things in the sci.chem group. "There were useful contacts and a superb experiment to measure the caffeine in tea (by precipitation) I turned that into a class investigation." He even set up a group where teachers might ask "Any ideas for my science club?" and by day two he had over 50 subscribers.
It can be fiddly to connect (see pages 8-9) - I would recommend Compuserve as an excellent starter kit for home use. The Internet is a thrill and there are marvels to come. The nice thing is that the debate can begin anytime you like.
WORLD WIDE WEB ADDRESSES
HOME (OR MENU) PAGES WASHINGTON SCIENCE EDUCATION
http: www- hpcc.astro.washington. edusciedscience. html
SAN FRANCISCO EXPLORATORIUM
http:www.exploratorium. eduThe Heart at The Franklin Institute on http:sln.fi.edu THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY
http:www.si.edu NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
http: www. nhm.ac.uk RESEARCH MACHINES
to find space, space telescopes, chemistry, human body project http: www.rmplc. co.uk BBC SCIENCE PAGE
http: www.bbcnc.org.ukeducationbbcedexperiencescienceA.html THE EDUCATION EXCHANGE
http: www. galviz.co.uk Easy topic searching on http: galaxy.einet.netwwwwww.html MORE FOCUSED PAGES:
Space shuttle simulations at http:www.nptn.org cyber. serv AOneP nesput.html SCIENCE TEACHERS 'GROUP'
http:turnpike.net metro vollans sci.html Wildlife, `flora for fauna' at http:www. bbk.ac.ukflora THE REFRIGERATOR
http:www.hamjudo. com cgi-binrefrigerator BRADFORD SPACE TELESCOPE
http:www.eia.brad. ac.ukrtp VOLCANO WORLD
http: volcano.und.nodak.edu BREAKING THE LAND SPEED RECORD
http:thrustssc.dec.co.uk THE FROGGY PAGE http:www. cs. yale.edu CHEMISTRY AT IMPERIAL COLLEGE
http:www. ch.ic.ac.uk NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY
http:ncet.csv. warwick. ac.ukindex.html