Holed up for days in libraries in Vienna or Warsaw, Poland, poring through hundred-year-old documents, Nathan Wood has often wished he could just pop onto the Internet on his laptop.
He could use Google Translate to check a Polish word or phrase he didn't know, or look up an article referenced somewhere. But half a world away from his home base at Kansas University, wireless Internet access is often impossible.
So when Wood read last month that KU had become one of a handful of American universities to sign onto Eduroam — a service widespread in Europe that allows faculty or students from a participating education or research institution to log onto a secure wireless network at any other one — he immediately wrote a thank-you note to the KU Information Technology office.
"For me, this was a really good relief," said Wood, an associate professor of Eastern European history at KU.
In the year 2013, wireless Internet access may seem like something simple to procure. But faculty who frequently travel abroad for research say that at universities or research labs that guard their secure networks closely, KU's new Eduroam connection could lead to a lot fewer headaches.
And KU was one of the first institutions in the central United States to jump in. (It was the second Big 12 university, after the University of Texas system.)
"It is something that our faculty needs," said Bob Lim, who oversees KU's IT department as chief information officer.
"Essentially everybody in Europe is using it," said James Sterbenz, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at KU.
Sterbenz is also a visiting professor at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom, and he helps with computer networking research projects funded by the European Union.
That means he frequently travels to universities and industrial research labs throughout Europe for meetings or conferences. Before, each visit included the chore of requesting access to computer networks that are often closed to protect databases and other material.
"It was sometimes painful," Sterbenz said.
Sterbenz first brought Eduroam to KU's attention, after he learned of its ubiquity in Europe. Now, when he goes on his next trip later this month, his connectivity headaches will be done with. As long as he's at a participating institution, he can just log on with his KU information.
Wood, too, used to look longingly at Eduroam on his list of available Wi-Fi networks, unable to connect. The network will make his sometimes dayslong library research efforts much easier, he said.
Lim said that was the aim of the IT office: to make faculty's work as easy as possible.
KU will pay nothing for the service. All that was required was about six months' worth of work and testing to make sure KU's network was compatible and secure enough.
The move will also make things easier for visiting scholars from abroad or from other U.S. institutions also on Eduroam.
"We want to make their experience on our campus as enjoyable and as seamless as possible," Lim said.
International students could also use the service to connect while back in their home country, he noted.
Institutions in this country have been somewhat slow to adopt the service so far. But Lim said he believes it's essential for large research universities that aim for a global influence.
"We no longer work in a vacuum," he said.
Sterbenz can testify to that, and he says KU is now a leader in making sure it's as easy as can be to work globally.