Imagine being able to tap the expertise of more than 250,000 professors and academics around the globe, with a single electronic-mail, phone, or fax message -- free of charge. Available since January as a service of the University Office of Affairs at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, ProfNet is just such an electronic cooperative, linking public-information officers (PIOs) at more than 230 educational, scientific, and cultural institutions via the Internet global network. ProfNet creator Dan Forbush, Stony Brook's PIO, who launched the ser-vice last December with less than $800, says ProfNet goes a step beyond Internet, CompuServe, and Nexis because of the leverage provided by the PIOs. Having people interpret queries and channel them to contacts they consider helpful is more efficient than sending one query at a time to strangers or looking for sources through key-word searches. Responses are obtained in as little as two hours. Forbush plans to cover ProfNet's estimated $1,000 annual operating costs with sales of E-mail directories listing ProfNet members.

-- Alessandra Bianchi