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Small Science
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Spring 2001
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Today's communication technologies can link up teachers and students in any location, at any time of day. This leads us to some obvious questions: Do we need classrooms at all? Why go to a campus when you can study online? The pros and cons of distance learning will be debated for many years to come. But this approach, at least for now, is best suited to nontraditional students - those who already are employed, who reside a great distance from a campus or who need very specific kinds of instruction. And no matter how sophisticated the technology becomes, residential research universities - academic communities engaged in teaching, research and public service - will continue to serve essential functions. They will, however, do some things quite differently than in the past.

Along with teaching, those things include scholarship and research. Universities perform much of the basic research that enables development of new digital technologies. Computer scientists, electrical engineers and other scholars at UCLA have contributed to some of the most important discoveries in this field.

In addition to creating information technologies, universities have an obligation to help interpret their significance for our society. A major step in that direction has been taken by the UCLA Center for Communication Policy, which recently released The UCLA Internet Report: Surveying the Digital Future.

The amount of human knowledge is growing at an amazing rate, and the rapid advance of IT is a major factor in the unprecedented expansion of information and data. As the knowledge base grows, so does the complexity of the problems that challenge our society, with the result that the traditional categories of knowledge are becoming less useful. At universities, scholars from different fields who rarely, if ever, talked to each other in the past now often work together to find the best possible approach to a problem. This multidisciplinary crossover is accompanied by a proliferation of specialized fields and subfields. For instance, dozens of UCLA scholars are engaged in the emerging field of nanoscience, which involves the study, engineering and manufacture of very small things, on the scale of a billionth of a meter (see "Small Science," page 26). Nanoscience builds upon the vital and strategic role of IT in managing and using data in astounding new ways.

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