SISIC Focuses on Interchange of Ideas and Technology

Volume 11, Number 4, December 1995
By James Thieman

The Science Information Systems Interoperability Conference (SISIC), conceived by the NASA/Office of Space Science (OSS) Information Systems Office and organized by NSSDC, was held November 6-9, 1995, at the University of Maryland Conference Center in College Park, Maryland. The emphasis of the conference was the interchange of ideas and technology for the improvement of old and new information systems in the space and Earth sciences. Nearly 170 people attended the conference, including participants from multiple government agencies and universities as well as participants from six foreign countries. Approximately 70 abstracts were submitted in response to the call for papers, and 17 information system exhibits were set up in the demonstration area, all connected to the network line brought into the conference center by the NASA Science Internet group from Ames Research Center.

The oral presentations were divided among six sessions entitled

The meeting began with an overview of NASA plans in the information system area given by Dr. Guenter Riegler of NASA Headquarters. Although reorganizations have changed the structure within NASA Headquarters, the emphasis on information systems has not changed.

Dr. Riegler was followed by Prof. Ben Shneiderman of the University of Maryland, who gave the keynote speech entitled "User Interface Research for Accessing Scientific Information." Prof. Shneiderman, who heads the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory at the University of Maryland, described some of the interface research results that have come out of the lab. In particular, he showed research applications of information systems that can convey large amounts of information in very simple and intuitive interfaces using specialized widgets available to the public. He emphasized the efficiency of a smaller number of screens with a greater density of information in comparison to multiple but less complicated screens. The presentation inspired many to consider the approaches recommended by Prof. Shneiderman.

The three and a half days of sessions that followed treated a variety of topics and included very interesting and valuable details about a number of the information systems presently existing and those planned for the future. There were also panel discussions concerning the need for directories in the Directories Workshop session and the future of Web applications in the World Wide Web Engines, Interfaces, Extensions session.

In the demonstration area several of the information system exhibitors expressed the value of seeing how their colleagues in other institutions or other disciplines have treated similar problems. Potential software sharing or reuse, one of the intended goals of such interactions, did occur in the session.

Details concerning the conference, including the abstracts and full papers that have been received to date, may be found at the SISIC Web site http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/sisic/sisic.html.

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