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Data breakout.

When a group of students in San Antonio, Texas, found elevated levels of carbon dioxide (C[O.sub.2]) in their school, they wanted to share their findings with the world. But rather than just write about their project, the students from Pease Middle School decided to take their findings "online." They typed their report into a computer and sent it via telephone lines to other computers around the world. Their link: a computer network called TERC Global Lab.

Like giant bulletin boards, networks of computers allow countless people to post and read messages all at the same time. With a computer hookup, you can even participate in live, online "conversations" with network users ten time zones away--for the price of a local telephone call.

"Being on a network is really neat," says Pease student Elizabeth Rainwater, "because you can talk to just about anybody you want." The Pease students' findings traveled in a flash to computers in 30 other states, and to overseas places like Australia, Korea, Russia, and Zimbabwe as well.


By taking their data online, the Texas students are following the lead of millions of professional scientists, the biggest group of computer-network users worldwide. Every day, thousands of scientists join networks to share data, compare research methods, and collaborate on projects at breathtaking speed. International exchanges that once took months now take minutes. "It's as if all the world's scientists were in one room available at one computer," says network user Larry Smarr, an astrophysicist.

Being hooked up to a network actually helped the Pease students realize the importance of their data. After collecting air samples and measuring C[O.sub.2] levels, the students transmitted their results to schools doing the same kind of research around the world.

The other schools' readings were "very low," recalls Pease teacher Linda Maston: 500 to 600 parts of C[O.sub.2] per million parts of air (ppm). "Then there was ours: 1,800, 1,900, 2,300 ppm." Those results could spell trouble. C[O.sub.2] levels above 1,000 ppm can cause headaches and fatigue.

To look for an explanation for their findings, the Pease students consulted Global Lab air-quality specialist Ken Muzal. They asked him questions online that led them to hypothesize that the school's ventilation system was not functioning correctly.


A group of teens at the Kennedy Middle School in Aiken, South Carolina, checked in on the network and got wind of Pease's high C[O.sub.2] results. Inspired by the Texas project, the Kennedy teens decided to take a closer look at the carbon dioxide levels in their own classrooms.

Specifically, they wanted to compare the air in standard school classrooms with that in "mobile classrooms" (trailers in the schoolyard). They hypothesized that indoor classroom air would prove superior to trailer air.

"First we checked the carbon dioxide in the classroom with the door shut after about thirty minutes of class," recalls Stewart Lee, one of the Kennedy students. "The readings were really high." Opening the classroom door reduced the C[O.sub.2] level a bit.

"After that we went out to a portable [trailer] unit. There was almost no carbon dioxide," says Lee. So the students disproved their hypothesis; trailer air was fresher.

When the Kennedy students reported their findings online, they offered an explanation for their results: "Regular classrooms open into hallways, while the trailers open into the outdoors," they wrote. When the classrooms' doors opened, the report continued, trailers received infusions of fresh air while the regular classrooms received only the "stale" air that had been trapped within the hallways.


For both groups of students, working on a network made their science projects more meaningful. "It was really neat because I'd never done that much with a computer before," says Kennedy student Stewart Lee. "I'd just used it to type papers and stuff."

For the Texas students, the online project even stimulated action. Pease school officials summoned environmental scientists who verified that C[O.sub.2] levels in the school were high. The solution: Open up some longneglected rooftop vents.

Afterward, says Elizabeth Rainwater, "we did a follow-up and a few more tests to make sure that C[O.sub.2] levels had actually gone down." Now everyone at Pease breathes more easily.


Scholastic Network, a new computer network designed specifically for students and teachers, features many activities related to stories in Science World.

For example, SW readers around the country recently participated in online studies on paper airplanes, bubble gum (see SW 9/17/93, pp. 7 and 12), and trash (see SW 4/15/94, p. 4). Why not take your project online too?

You can also use Scholastic Network to save yourself hours on background research for your project: Access a huge library of SW articles right from your computer. Talk to the SW editors (screen name: Science Consult with scientists from different fields--for example, zoo nutritionist Ellen Dierenfeld, featured in SW 9/2/94, will be online this November to answer your questions. Ask your teacher for details.
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Title Annotation:science students share data over computer networks
Author:Fischer, David Marc
Publication:Science World
Date:Sep 16, 1994
Previous Article:Say it with pictures.
Next Article:Should Americans measure metric?

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