WASHINGTON (AP) — The Smithsonian Institution is joining an ultra-fast broadband network built for U.S. universities to connect the world’s largest museum and research complex with hundreds of colleges and reach more people online.

On Tuesday, officials announced the Smithsonian is partnering with the university-backed Internet2 network to help open its vast museum collections to students and researchers at more than 400 research universities and 66,000 other U.S. research and education partners. The Smithsonian has been working to digitize its 137 million objects but has said it will take years to make all of them available online.

Internet2 will connect museums on the National Mall to its ultra-fast 100 gigabit network to share their content. The research and education network is about 100 times faster than Google’s fiber-optic system operating in Kansas City, Mo., and being built elsewhere.

Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough, a civil engineer by training, was familiar with Internet2 from his days as president of Georgia Tech. He said the Smithsonian is poised to do things online that are “almost unimaginable.” Cloud computing, he said, can make massive museum collections an asset for more people in classrooms and laboratories.

“We’re moving more and more into clear digital education that we can deliver anywhere, anytime to anybody,” Clough told a crowd of university officials at Internet2’s annual meeting.

On the National Mall, the Smithsonian is considering building a live theater in one of its oldest buildings, the Arts and Industries Building, that’s being renovated to become an innovation pavilion. The theater could showcase Internet2’s ultra-fast network for online lectures and technology that allows musicians hundreds of miles apart to perform together as if they were on the same stage.

About 30 million people a year visit Smithsonian museums in Washington and New York City. The complex has been working recently to provide resources and online symposiums for K-12 schools nationwide. It has also forged partnerships with George Mason University in Virginia, Arizona State University and other schools to support research.

The partnership could open the Smithsonian to massive open online courses, or MOOCS, that reach students around the globe, as well as other programs to provide digital content to schools, said Shelton Waggener, the senior vice president of Internet2.

Clough said the Smithsonian is looking to create 3D images of some artifacts, such as a Revolutionary War boat, to share with schools, though such technical advances will take time.

The Smithsonian also is part of a global genome initiative that aims to document the genome information for all species on the planet, so sharing large amounts of data with research partners will be faster through Internet2. The network could also handle large data files from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory at Harvard.

Internet2 said its network is fast enough to handle data transfers in 30 seconds that would take 27 hours on the commercial Internet.

“This is obviously another big step for us and brings us into another world,” Clough said.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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