University of Iowa, Department of Geoscience
Evolution and the History of Life (12:004, 12:006)



Introduction to the Internet

Background Information:

Many science resources are available on the Internet. These include easy access to professionals, information about recent research findings, and large databases on the World Wide Web (WWW or Web). The Web offers a fast-growing, current body of information that is linked together and easy to use. The best way to learn about the Internet and the WWW is to explore or "surf the net". This lab will allow you to explore some of the information that is available and learn how to access Web resources efficiently.

Technically, the Web is a smaller network of hyperlinked documents within the larger computer network that is the Internet. The Internet (or "Net") also includes resources and services such as Gopher, FTP, telnet and others. So, you really don't "surf the net"- but don't worry about the terminology. The important thing is to get involved with this technology, learn your way around, and get the most from what is offered.

What you should be able to do when you have finished this lab:

When you have finished this lab you should be familiar with the World Wide Web and how to access it from the computers located in the U of I Geoscience Department (rooms 114TH and 35 TH) and at other Instructional Technology Centers (ITCs) around campus.

You will also be familiar with two useful home pages: the Evolution & the History of Life course home page and the University of Iowa Department of Geoscience home page. You will explore how to search the web for information related to Biology and Paleontology. You will also be introduced to two web sites in addition to the Neogene Marine Biota Database (NMITA) that is being developed by Dr. Budd (et. al.). We will use this database more extensively in Lab 9.

If you do not already have an e-mail account, we will help you set one up and help you become familiar with how to use it.

Perhaps you are very familiar with the Web already, or maybe this is your first Web experience. Either way, we predict that you will find the Web useful for this course and that you will be excited about the wealth of information available. We hope you will set aside some time to explore further on your own by surfing the net, reading one of the reference manuals, or taking a course.

What you need to turn in:

You should turn in answers to all questions printed in this lab. Questions are clearly marked in BOLD FACE CAPS in the text of the lab. For your convenience, these questions are also listed on a separate page that you can hand in (be sure to include your name) or e-mail to us by the due date. You should keep this lab for future reference.

"Surfing the Net!"

This lab is organized into three parts:

Part I: Becoming Familiar with the Internet through the World Wide Web
If you are familiar with the University of Iowa Geoscience Department home page and you use e-mail, you probably won't need to spend much time on this section but you still need to answer the questions. If you have never seen the Geoscience Department home page, don't be discouraged--getting around on the Web is pretty simple if you can click the mouse and read. This section will allow you to become familiar with the menu options and toolbars available in Netscape. You will also explore the home page for Evolution and the History of Life.

Part II: Searching For Information on the Web
In this part of the lab you will become familiar with databases and how to search them in a variety of ways. This section is not mean to be exhaustive, but it should spark your interest in surfing the net even after this lab (and your class) are over. In this section, we will also explore how to evaluate what you find on the web. Just because information is published on the WWW doesn't guarantee that you can believe it. However, the databases we will look at are good examples of easily verifiable sources of information.

Part III: Databases:  Neogene Marine Invertebrates of Tropical America (NMITA), The University of California Museum of Paleontology at Berkeley, and The Tree of Life
In this part of the lab we will explore three databases: NMITA (Neogene Marine Biota of Tropical America),UC Berkeley's Museum of Paleontology, and the Tree of Life Database at Arizona. We will see how database information can be used to answer questions you may have about genera and species included in the database. Of course, these questions may seem contrived because they are posed to you in the context of this lab. Try to think beyond having to answer the questions to situation where you might use database to answer questions of your own.

Part I: Becoming Familiar with the
Internet through the World Wide Web

Most of the following, general information is taken from the book: Netscape and the World Wide Web for Dummies by Paul E. Hoffman, Chicago: IDG Books Worldwide, Inc., 1995.

One component of the Information Superhighway is the World Wide Web (WWW). The Web is part of the Internet which is an international network of thousands of linked computers which communicate through methods which have been agreed upon for years. The Internet started about 27 years ago and the WWW began in 1989.

To access the Web, you need to use a browser such as Netscape or Mosaic. A browser is capable of reading the hypertext mark-up language (html) of the Web that is used to create the pages you see. Each page has a unique file address or URL (Uniform Resource Locator). Some terminology is important but, luckily, in order to use the Internet (and WWW) you don't need to know many technical details. Highlights of the Internet include being able to access mostly free services from other computers. These services include: mail (as in e-mail like you may connect with through, the WWW, FTP (for getting files), and Usenet news groups.

In this lab we will focus on the WWW because the web combines text, graphics, and video clips. The WWW is unique because the software is very flexible and it allows you to access information in these various ways. This is perfect for use with databases because you can see pictures and movies, and jump around to different topics in addition to reading lots of text.

One thing to remember about the Web is that things are always changing as the amount of information grows. Don't be alarmed if things aren't exactly the same as they were the last time you were on the Web and don't forget to check frequently for new information.

Part II: Searching for Information on the Web
There are numerous ways to search for information on the Web. Some of these are detailed below. You will find these under Netscape's Directory buttons in the toolbar.
What's New
Interesting new sites on the Web (very up to date).
What's Cool
The very best of the Web (in some people's opinions).
The guide for news and travel.
Net Search
Places from which you can search the Web like Yahoo, HotBot, etc.
Search for people in many ways. Includes a list of Web sites for finding people.
About Netscape software.
Plus, Netscape Help is available from all of these buttons.

Search Tips:

If you are trying to find a particular site or document or just looking for resources about a particular topic, you can use one of the many on-line search engines and directories. A summary of available search engines and specific tips is provided below. This information is taken from an article that appeared in MacWorld, August 1997.

On the technical side of things, a directory is a browsable collection of Web content. This means it is possible to see the entire contents of its database by exploring all of the areas presented to you without posing a specific question. Yahoo! is an example of a directory. A search engine, like AltaVista, is a strictly searchable collection of Web content. The only way to see them is to pose a question and hope for relevant matches. The difference is important. The directory most likely doesn't index every word on the pages it lists or even every page of the site. Usually directories use editor's decriptions of what the site contains, so start general and narrow down your search as needed. If you use a search engine, start specific and generalize your search as needed. Search engines index almost every word on the page and broad searches retrieve too much information.

Here are some other helpful hints and a link to further help you refine your searching skills.

Don't believe everything you hear or read, even if you see it with your own two eyes. You probably approach most situations this way and your approach to the Web shouldn't differ. In fact, you should be even more critical. The WWW is a work in progress. It is constantly being changed, added to, and revised by anyone with the right access and equipment. In one sense this is very positive because this format supports freedom of speech and facilitates access to very current information. However, there are no editors, no peer reviews and no cyberpolice.

Part III: Databases:  Neogene Marine Invertebrates of
Tropical America (NMITA), The University of California
Museum of Paleontology at Berkeley, and The Tree of Life


Be sure that you have answered all the questions on the Answer Sheet.  You may hand this in or e-mail the answers to your TA.

Related Links to help you learn more:

Return to: