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The National Science Foundation on Monday announced a $2.2 million grant to the University at Buffalo for fellowships in the booming field of geographic information sciences.

With the funding, UB will offer 18 doctoral fellowships worth $15,000 a year in seven departments.

David Mark, a geography professor at UB, said "there is an increasing demand for researchers" in this field and growing demand for faculty familiar with geographic information sciences.

A second foundation grant announced Monday -- for $350,000 -- will make it possible for UB soon to be hooked into the Backbone Network Service, a fiber-optic communication system that parallels the Thruway.

The high-speed data network ties together the super-computing sites in the country, said Hinrich R. Martens, UB associate vice president for computing and information technology.

The connection is expected to be ready by next spring.

The two-year grant making this possible is UB's share of a $1.75 million award to a consortium of research universities in the state known as NYSERNet.

A subgroup of NYSERNet, including UB, Columbia University, University of Rochester, New York University and the Rochester Institute of Technology, received the $1.75 million award allowing the institutions to hook into the service.

The high-speed network is a crucial component of President Clinton's Next Generation Internet, or Internet 2 -- a new network being developed by a consortium of 134 universities to support research and other activities, Martens noted.

The Backbone Network Service has been called the "fabric" that weaves Internet 2 universities together, according to UB network engineer Jerry Bucklaew, UB's representative to the state Education and Research Network.

"The Internet today is slow," he said. "If you want to do inter
active things or live things, voice or video-conferencing in real time, you need greater bandwidth and quality of service."

Internet 2 is a must for UB "to retain and maintain the viability of the university," Martens said.

"We believe we will have applications and research projects that we wouldn't be able to carry out without the capability of Internet 2," he noted.

"We need it in order to maintain our competitive position to attract faculty, to attract research and to be a 'name' institution that will also be attractive to undergraduate students."

UB qualified as a top-level research institution in applying for the Backbone connection by citing projects of such UB centers as the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research, the Center for High Performance Computing and the Center of Excellence for Document Analysis and Recognition.

UB officials said nearly every student with geographic information service skills, even at the undergraduate level, gets a job.

Already at UB, researchers are using geographic information services to develop suburban deer management and analyze patterns of crime and problems in caring for the elderly when family members live far away.

The science foundation made awards to only 16 applicants out of 630.

The university said the program starts with the fall term in 1999.

"In terms of the breadth of our offerings and the number of faculty involved in geographic information science," Mark said, "UB is easily among the top 10 universities in the U.S."

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