SELECTED COMMENTS ON NAI INFORMATION TECNOLOGIES
Baruch Blumberg (Fox Chase Cancer Center and founding director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute):
Each team received videoconferencing equipment. To assist with the conferencing sessions “producer directors” were appointed at each of the sites, and they met periodically by video and in person to facilitate the videoconferencing. Our video communication capabilities improved over the time I was Director and I understand are even better now. The NAI Web site was established as a mechanism for frequent communication of papers, newsletters, notices, educational material, administrative matters and also for nonhierarchal peer-to-peer communications. It was also a major part of the public outreach effort. We realized that electronic means alone were insufficient to establish good collaboration, and we instituted other methods for abetting interaction and collaboration. The Executive Council met monthly by video and in person three or more times a year. The entire membership was invited to multiday meetings at one of the team sites every other year, and on alternate years they would meet at the Astrobiology Science Conference. We also encouraged participation in field trips. Funding was available for members of one team to join field trips organized by another in order to increase interaction. Additional funding was made available for joint research projects that would bring people from different teams together. There was a remarkable amount of personal connections established between members of the different teams and, I believe, it did lead to the coherence of the organization and increased collaboration.
David Des Marais (principal investigator, NASA Ames Research Center):
The initial efforts to develop novel approaches in information technology were neither very successful nor were they truly novel. However, in recent years the NAI has very successfully employed mainstream applications such as WebEx. Also, the NAI-supported Web-based seminar series have typically been excellent. I cannot cite hard evidence, but I suspect that these seminars have fostered several interdisciplinary collaborations.
Bruce Jakosky (principal investigator, University of Colorado):
Not very, to be honest, but then nobody has figured out how to do this. The NAI pioneered the (somewhat) effective use of videoconferencing, video seminars, and WebEx, but I would hope that modern approaches to collaborative work would go farther than this. Of course, if I had any good ideas as to how to enhance these, I would put them forward.
Andrew Knoll (former principal investigator, Harvard University):
The NAI certainly made it possible for me to conduct collaborative research at Rio Tinto with Spanish colleagues, and for this I am most appreciative. NAI-driven technological innovation played little role in this collaboration. E-mail, the Internet, wiki-sites, etc. go a long way toward facilitating collaborative research. I don’t know to what extent NAI has developed resources above and beyond these readily available facilitators.
Rocco Mancinelli (principal investigator, SETI Institute):
With the use of WebEx and videoconferencing capabilities the NAI has successfully conducted meetings (e.g., the NAI Executive Council monthly meetings, informational workshops) and presented colloquia. These have provided us the opportunity to interact more regularly than we otherwise could.
Hiroshi Ohmoto (principal investigator, Pennsylvania State University):
During the early stage of the NAI, we talked about creating a common Astrobiology Laboratory in Moffett Field (Ames), which would house (1) biological experimental facilities and (2) large state-of-the-art analytical instruments. Experiments and analyses were to be carried out remotely using modern technology, such as the technology used in Mars exploration, and the data were to be shared by all NAI-related investigators via advanced IT network. It would have been great if such a laboratory had been built. But unfortunately, such a grand vision was lost when Dr. Blumberg left the NAI.