Science search made easier in developing nations

Search specialists team up to make scientific research more readily available to those with sluggish Web access.

Scientists in developing countries may soon have better access to peer research on the Internet, thanks to a partnership between search specialists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Elsevier.

MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory is contributing technology to a joint project with Elsevier that will allow scientists with limited bandwidth to access information online more easily, the school announced Tuesday.

MIT's technology, called Time Equals Knowledge (TEK), lets researchers with limited resources, such as outdated technology or weak funds, send a query to its Boston-based servers and search engine. TEK will collect documents, compress them and send them back via e-mail a week later, saving the recipient on connectivity costs.

Combined with Elsevier's science search engine, dubbed Scirus, TEK will hone in on the science-related subset of the Web for researchers, according to the two partners.

Called Search Scirus with TEK, the service "can help bridge the information divide between technologically advanced and developing countries, serving the global scientific community at large," Sharon Mombru, Scirus' senior product manager, said in a statement.

The move comes as many projects are under way to bring more scientific information to the Web and mitigate the costs of otherwise pricey information. Google, for example, is adding many different sources of scientific data to its specialized search engine, Google Scholar. Still, the project doesn't directly address the slow connection speeds that bandwidth-challenged researchers face.

MIT and Elsevier plan to bring the project to institutions with specific expertise in information-delivery to developing countries.

"We hope that organizations with access to users in these countries will take Elsevier's lead and get help put this initiative into practice and extend the reach of valuable scientific information available on the Internet," said Saman Amarasinghe, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT.

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