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Editorial: Onward NEON

October 28, 2004

Jeffrey A. Goldman

On 15 September 2004, AIBS—in partnership with a score of scientists, engineers, and educators—entered into a 2-year cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to coordinate the creation of a final design and plan for the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). The NEON project office at AIBS headquarters in Washington, DC, has opened its doors and is bringing on staff. For those unfamiliar with NEON, it is a continental-scale research instrument consisting of geographically distributed infrastructure networked through high-capacity communication systems, an instrument to further our understanding of the nature and pace of biological change. For the past 6 years, the scientific community has labored to develop a network design that is driven by a clear scientific vision. Now, with the support of NSF and federal appropriators, the participation of a broad community of researchers, and a coordinated, community-based process, we renew the journey.

The next phase is the creation of an implementation plan that charts the physical design of the network, the organizational structure and management plan, the construction schedule, and the cost of putting it all together—estimated from the bottom up. Along the way, we will create an integrated science and education plan and a preliminary (or reference) design, including the informatics and networking components, both of which will be vetted by the prospective NEON community. In addition, we will launch an independent, not-for-profit, member-based organization with the mission to administer the construction and operation of NEON upon completion of the implementation plan. Thus, AIBS is serving as the lead institution for NEON until this new organization can take the reins.

Past involvement with NEON informs us that the network’s design must follow from compelling scientific questions. Common sense instructs us that the users of the network must be involved in its development. Our plan relies heavily on committees—with members drawn from the community of prospective users—charged with articulating not only the science drivers but also the scientific and educational requirements and technical solutions that will guide the design. The challenge we face on the road ahead will be to achieve the measure of focus in the scientific scope of NEON necessary for success while maintaining the broadest possible support in the scientific community.

We now embark on a transformational path that ends with the power to understand and forecast our environmental future. We urge our colleagues to join us in the effort, and we invite you to learn more by visiting our Web site, www.neoninc.org, and communicating with the NEON leadership.

Jeffrey A. Goldman
NEON Project Manager and
Science Office Director
American Institute of Biological Sciences

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