Observation of the rise of computational science and the popularity of the Internet and its constituent research networks among scientists in general led a group of computer scientists and engineers to conceive of and begin to explore the concept of a "collaboratory," which is an environment in which all of a scientist's instruments and information are virtually local, regardless of their actual locations. The virtual environment of the collaboratory supports interaction among scientists; among scientists, instruments, and data; and among networked computing tools used in the conduct of scientific research.
The development of a national collaboratory capability would facilitate collaboration of individuals and groups without regard to their physical locations. Collaboration may occur among scientists within a given facility or institution, but collaboration and interaction among distant researchers and resources are becoming increasingly important.
Although articulating the rationale for collaboration may be easy, achieving effective collaboration is not. In part, the situation reflects the basic training of scientists: scientists have been educated to focus on individual activity and achievement. Moreover, scientists have had to compete with each other to attain recognition and resources. Collaboration tends to be easier on a small scale and when it is local: when a small number of individuals collaborate it is generally possible to proceed on the basis of mutual trust, but "rules of the road" are needed for larger-scale collaboration. These and other human considerations shape and constrain the collaborations that do take place; in some instances they also inform the design of incentives to promote collaboration.
To gain insights into the motivations for collaboration among and within different fields of science, the obstacles to effective collaboration, and the potential benefits of computer-based tools for collaboration, the committee held workshops addressing these issues in the contexts of molecular biology, oceanography, and space physics, three fields that vary greatly in their use of computing and communications technology and in the applicability of the collaboratory concept. Despite these variations, all three fields share a common dependence on the collection and analysis of large amounts of data.
Through the workshops the committee found that collaboration is becoming more common (albeit at different rates) in these fields, within and between disciplines; that the conditions under which individual scientists work vary substantially; and that the familiarity with, access to, and use of computer-based technology vary significantly across fields. The workshops suggested that the broader community of researchers is aware of some of the relevant technological advances but often lacks the technical and financial support necessary for applying new technology.
The committee found that generally, any science that makes extensive use of computing for modeling, simulation, data analysis, and data storage and retrieval can benefit from the use of collaboratories, particularly in circumstances where collaboration has already begun. Bottom-up motivation will be an essential factor in the success of any collaboratory effort.
The committee concluded that a research program to further knowledge of how to implement and effectively use collaboratories would have broad impact. Such a program could involve the development, adaptation, or integration of wide-bandwidth communication between two or more sites allowing good transmission of sight and sound to achieve a virtual presence of an individual in someone else's laboratory, sets of database tools with common access and sophisticated graphics capabilities for interpreting masses of information, collaborative authoring and editing tools, and so on. While all of these developments can contribute to the conduct of science, the greatest impact will come from integrating these technologies and implementing them on a large enough scale to serve significant scientific communities—a large enough scale to provide scientists with new and better options for designing and executing their projects.
The committee envisions a program that would bring together computer scientists and other members of the scientific community. Such a program would present many challenges, given both the likely variations in the cultures of the disciplines involved and the potential awkwardness of having one partner in the position of a supplier and one in the position of customer. Nevertheless, the limited experience to date with such cross-disciplinary partnerships has been encouragingly beneficial to science.1 Both the opening of all fields to more interdisciplinary activity and the recent, dramatic advances in