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Over a thousand people packed into the Grand Ballroom of the Westin Hotel in Seattle when the APS March-Meeting post-deadline session on Magnesium Diboride (MgB2) began at 8 pm on March 12. Interest was intense, although the crowd had dwindled to perhaps a couple of hundred when the 79th and final paper was presented at about 1:15 am.
In addition to the physicists in the audience and at the podium, a team of APS staff members was ensconced at a special table in the front of the room, frantically collecting transparencies from the speakers who careened off the podium at the rate of one every 3 minutes, and then photographing the transparencies with a digital camera.
Meanwhile, in the back of the room, an audio-visual technician was recording the session both on video tape and on digital audio tapes. All of this information was transported back to APS headquarters in College Park, MD where the images of the transparencies were digitally enhanced and were correlated with the various talks. With the aid of special software, APS information technology specialists then synchronized the transparencies with the audio tapes, using the video tape as reference.
The result of these efforts was posted on the APS web site (http://www.aps.org) in batches as the talks became ready. All the talks were available by March 30. A visitor to the site who has the appropriate RealPlayer software can now click on a particular talk, see an abstract, and listen to the audio, with the relevant transparencies popping onto the monitor just when the speaker would have placed them on the overhead projector at the meeting. "This comes close to reproducing the experience of someone in the audience," said Jim Egan, APS Senior Systems Analyst, who spearheaded the information-technology part of the effort.
Talks from the APS Centennial meeting in 1999 had been posted on the Web, but the work had been contracted to an outside firm. Using APS resources to put talks from APS meetings on the web had been under active consideration, but the idea received a sudden shot in the arm when the MgB2 session was scheduled. "We wanted to provide this service to the condensed matter and materials physics communities," said Jessica Clark, APS Public Outreach Specialist, who was in charge of getting the digital pictures of the transparencies.
The APS team had the enthusiastic support of the chairs of the session, John Clarke of Berkeley and George Crabtree of Argonne. "I'm glad the experiment has worked out," Crabtree said. "It is a great idea."
"Thanks to everybody at APS for all their efforts," added Clarke.
The next step will be to post the plenary talks from the just-concluded April Meeting, which should be a more typical exercise than the MgB2 session. After that, it will be time to assess the experiment. According to Egan and Tracy Alinger, Director of Information Technology, when staff time and audio-visual costs are factored in, a half-hour talk should run about $150 to $200. This might be reduced for speakers who use power-point presentations.
What happens next will depend on whether the various units who participate in APS meetings want to see talks from their sessions on the web, and are willing to cover the cost. "It was an interesting experiment, but at this point we have to go to the units who organize the individual sessions and ask them whether they want this service to continue," concludes Alan Chodos, Associate Executive Officer of the APS.
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