John Foster remembers well the time three years ago when he first met the Russian scientists with whom he and MIT colleagues are now collaborating on a new way to map the ionosphere.
"It was an international professional meeting in Prague, and it was one of the first such meetings these Russian scientists were allowed to attend outside of their country," said Dr. Foster, who is assistant director of the Haystack Observatory and a principal investigator in the collaboration.
After hearing a presentation by one of the Russians on ionospheric radio tomography, the experimental mapping technique the scientists are currently testing, Dr. Foster approached the scientist and "immediately suggested to him that it would be an excellent idea to combine his technique with mine at Millstone." The Millstone Hill Research Radar at the Haystack Observatory is one of four such facilities around the world currently used to produce images of the ionosphere.
The Russian and his colleagues were very interested, and three years later-after "pioneering work with the NSF to get this funded," Dr. Foster said-the scientists are currently running an experiment that will allow them to improve and refine the tomographic technique. It is the first such experiment done in the United States with Russian radio tomography receivers.
Communication between the two groups of scientists has, of course, been critical. To that end, Dr. Foster said, "my group [in atmospheric sciences] at Haystack was one of the first [in the US] to establish a direct e-mail line to Moscow University." (The Russian principal investigators for the experiment are Professor Vyatcheslav E. Kunitsyn of Moscow State University and Professor Evgeny Tereshchenko of the Polar Geophysical Institute.)
He noted, however, that the Polar Geophysical Institute in Murmansk still does not have e-mail, although scientists there can get onto the Internet through the Norwegian telephone system.
And what of any language barriers? They're falling fast. Both groups of scientists have been learning the others' language. "We're quite serious about this collaboration," Dr. Foster concluded.
A version of this article appeared in the November 3, 1993 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 12).