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As University of Chicago psychology professor Bennett Bertenthal, PhD, sees it, the world is quickly dividing into two groups: those who know about "grid computing" and those who don't. He'd like to bring more psychologists into the first group.

Through PSY21 efforts such as advocacy for more grant funding, APA's Science Directorate hopes to help expand access to technological infrastructure such as the grid--a multimodal computer network that also can store and analyze large data sets. Such access will ensure psychologists aren't left behind during this century's technical revolution, Bertenthal says.

Indeed, through the Access Grid, an ensemble of network and computing resources, Bertenthal and other researchers can communicate with multiple users from around the world in real time. People use grid "nodes"--rooms with one wall serving as a large screen--to display as many as 50 real-time videos that can be minimized, expanded and shifted around on the wall like browsers on a computer screen. Each screen can show various people communicating simultaneously.

This design's benefit is that, unlike online peer-to-peer communication techniques like Webcams, the grid allows different groups to interact from their different locations via their own network. For example, Bertenthal explains, the grid could host virtual conferences that display a speaker, her PowerPoint presentation and images of various audiences at sites worldwide.

Perhaps most amazing is that the Access Grid isn't expensive. Other than the costs of housing the grid node, its equipment--a few desktop computers, projectors, cameras and microphones--costs between $50,000 and $75,000, Bertenthal says.

But how could grid computing help psychologists with research and its infrastructure? It could provide a multimedia data warehouse in which researchers could share, annotate and analyze data, Bertenthal says. And the archive's enormous storage capacity could support large multimedia data sets in the terabyte or even petabyte range.

Rather than analyzing data on their own computers, psychologists could access the grid's enormous computing resources for searching and analyzing huge data sets stored in an archive supported by the grid. This capability also spares psychology from enduring long transmission times while downloading huge data sets to local computers, he explains.

The grid could also provide access to shared software tools for coding to assist researchers who use video-based data.

"We've been working with computer scientists and image processing engineers to develop software for semiautomatic coding of video-based behaviors that currently require extremely laborious amounts of time," Bertenthal says. However, most of this software is still in the development stage, he notes. But that shouldn't stop psychologists from learning about the possibilities that this new technology will offer because informed psychologists can then play a more active role in the development of these new tools.

"If you've never been off the farm, you'll never know what you're missing in 'gay Paree,'" Bertenthal says. "That's true for many researchers in psychological science. They haven't been challenged to think about what sort of infrastructure would help facilitate their research because most of the time they're focused on just doing research within their own individual laboratory. It's important to learn about these opportunities, because otherwise it's hard to envision what you're missing."

--M. GREER