Astonishing applications

"This is going to change the way young people are educated," Julian Peebles of the Ruth Lilly Health Education Center said about Internet2 to an audience of 130 at the center's Internet2 reception at the end of October.

But first, a few things about Internet2: The Internet began within the government, industrial and academic sectors as a research tool. The commercialization of the technology resulted in today's melee of spam and other traffic. This contributed to the creation of Internet2, a private academic network of over 200 universities, with a core routing hub at IUPUI.

Created by the Department of Defense, Internet2 was privatized in 1995. Thirty-four institutions signed up for the service at a conference in October 1996 for $25,000 with upgrades. Since then, the membership has increased to include more than 200 universities and over 44 corporate members. The private high-speed network provides a safe haven from hackers, excess traffic and other nuisances posed by a commercial network. It also allows the transmission of HDTV-quality video streams across the country with minimal delays.

Internet2's applications are astonishing. It allows access to scientific instruments at cross-country labs in real-time. In the field of music, it can transfer large digital libraries of recordings from one campus to another in seconds. A teacher can teach American Sign Language instantaneously via streaming video to a classroom across the country. Internet2's network can also transmit radar and satellite data from the upper atmosphere to labs in an instant. Through this innovative network, medical students can watch a surgery as it's conducted from across the country, and can give feedback on the operation.

Dr. Darrell Bailey, founding executive associate dean of the IU School of Informatics, brought examples of Internet2's exciting new advances to the Ruth Lilly Health Education Center. Upon walking in, a crowd of people wearing 3D goggles hovered around the "John-e-Box," a large digital TV display with a pixelated three-dimensional display of a cryosectioned cadaver. After being frozen in a block of ice, technicians shaved off a millimeter of the frozen body 1,800 times, while a camera in the ceiling photographed each layer. The camera converted the cross-sections into a volume set of pixelated data.

Dr. Steven Senger of Wisconsin's LaCrosse University waved a laser pen at a nearby console. The pen displayed crosshairs on the screen. A circle highlighted the ribcage, and the pixels from layers of tissue quickly covered the bones, while Senger rapidly clicked the mouse. "This application does high-performance tasks for medical education," Senger said to the crowd. "This will leverage anatomy classes."

The screen went blank as he uploaded another data set, this time the skull of a similarly cryosectioned woman. With swift strokes of the pen, he repeated the process, and layers of brain tissue quickly covered sections of marrow. "This doesn't use strictly post-mortem cryosectioning," he told the crowd. "With data sets, we can work with MRIs, ultrasounds and even aerodynamics models."

Directors then ushered the crowd into the auditorium for a keynote address and a musical performance via videoconference. "This new generation learns differently than we did," RLHEC president Julian Peebles said. "We're on the cusp of being a leader and contributor in the field of education. Tens of thousands of kids will have access to this technology - it will make a difference."

Then Dean Bailey addressed the crowd, saying, "It's amazed me how the significance of collaborations have advanced the arts and sciences. It's taken on a dimension that's gone beyond my greatest expectations."

The theater screen then revealed classical guitarist Bret Hoag, sitting in a conference room on the fourth floor of IUPUI's new Informatics Technology Building on Michigan and West streets. Many remember newscasts from the opening weeks of the Afghanistan conflict, where, due to latency, the broadcasters' lips would move seconds after the sound-bytes. Hoag, on the other hand, had a two-way interaction with the audience in real time. He performed a composition on classical guitar with no transmission delay, and acknowledged the audience's applause.

"This is the first leap in distance communication of a kind we can develop," Bailey continued. "You can imagine the kind of distance music learning this implies."

The crowd walked into the nutrition center theater and watched workers pick up plastic food items. Each item as well as the food tray had RFID, or radio frequency identification tags, underneath. The tags were encoded with the name of the food product. After placing them on the lunch-tray, a wireless antenna sent the information to a nearby computer connected to a USDA database via Internet2. The theater screen then displayed comparisons such as fat and vitamin content in the form of bar graphs. The demonstrators compared a bag of chips with french fries and a baked potato.

Many groups collaborated to rewire the Ruth Lilly Health Education Center, which is now linked underground to IUPUI's Internet2 hub. Bailey's efforts helped make this possible. Said one RLHEC worker, "We're glad to be a part of this."