Bringing the Internet to the Wilderness
University of California at San Diego networking researcher Hans-Werner Braun prepares to deploy a sensor-equipped autonomous underwater vehicle into a stream. The vehicle will transmit data from the remote location to researchers off-site using the wireless backbone of the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN).
Credit: HPWREN


The Internet is ubiquitous in today's society, and Hans-Werner Braun helped bring the web to the public. Now he's helping bring web access to the wilderness. A principal investigator of the NSFNET backbone project which helped lead to today's Internet, Braun is currently a research scientist and adjunct professor at the University of California San Diego. He is also a principal investigator of the NSF-supported High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN), a non-commercial, wide-area, wireless network in Southern California. The network is used for network-analysis research and provides high-speed Internet to field researchers from many disciplines who need internet access from wilderness locations. The network also provides a communications backbone for remote environmental sensors, wildfire communications, and distance education. HPWREN is featured in a Behind the Scenes story about aerial firefighter Ron Serabia, a Research in Action image capturing a bird in flight, and a Research in Action image featuring the network's collaboration with Caltech's Palomar Observatory. Below, Braun answers the ScienceLives 10 Questions.

Name: Hans-Werner Braun
Age: 55
Institution: University of California, San Diego
Field of Study: Data networking, applying cyberinfrastructure to science, education and public safety.

What inspired you to choose this field of study?
As for the general networking field, it probably "just happened" while I was tinkering with electronics as a child and getting interested in computers. When I finished college, I applied to two job offerings, one related to computer networking, the other to data visualization. I got the networking job offer first, so I took it, and stayed in that field.

In about 2000, a geophysics faculty member at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography asked whether I would be willing to help create a more reliable and comprehensive long-haul wireless network for his earthquake sensors. Hence, we created the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network, out of which evolved many collaborations with science, education and public safety applications.

What inspired me to choose this field of study? I do not think that it was a single circumstance, but more an "I have been driven by events" kind of series of things; this defined the next right issue to get involved in.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
If you spend some amount of time working to reach 95 percent of a goal, be very thoughtful about whether 95 percent is good enough, or whether you would want to spend the same amount of time again trying to get closer to 100 percent.

What was your first scientific experiment as a child?

Hmm, that is a long time ago. What I easily remember are two things, building and flying small rockets while keeping extensive logs, and some experiments with extracting different kinds of chlorophyll from plants. I think my grandfather was very instrumental there in nurturing my interests. I even had a small chemistry lab and later a photography lab in my parent's basement.

What is your favorite thing about being a researcher?
I think that would be the ability to make a significant difference without having to work towards a short-term profit.

What is the most important characteristic a researcher must demonstrate in order to be effective?
Probably having an open mind, the willingness to listen to counter-views, and to not turn into a mad scientist.

What are the societal benefits of your research?
My highlights would probably be teaching Native Americans how to architect, build and run wireless cyberinfrastructure, helping firefighters with data communications during large-scale fires, and being the principal data communication link for the Palomar Observatory (the image data which helped demote Pluto from planet status came from a telescope at the Palomar Observatory via HPWREN). I should probably also add the distance education impacts, especially on school children, via the Live Interactive Virtual Explorations aspect of HPWREN. Let us also not forget the societal impact of the NSFNET, which between about 1985 and about 1995 drove the Internet from the DoD-only ARPAnet network research project to today’s global data interconnection substrate.

Who has had the most influence on your thinking as a researcher?

My grandfather, no doubt, even though he was not even a researcher, but he had the right mentality.

What about your field or being a researcher do you think would surprise people the most?

Probably that it is actually a lot of work over a long time and that assets we build can be very quickly lost if they are not being maintained and taken care of.

If you could only rescue one thing from your burning office or lab, what would it be?
Probably my main hard disk. These days computers are so intertwined with people, I would think I would lose part of my brain if I was not able to recover the data.

What music do you play most often in your lab or car?

In all honesty, I rarely play music. It is not that I dislike music, perhaps more the opposite, but music (I have no favorite kind, I know whether I like it when I hear it) seems to do strange things to my brain, synchronizing to the music, and getting it into some kind of a weird state.