RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Long before the Internet, let alone social media, the legend that now is the realty of 50-year-old Research Triangle Park spread worldwide with Chinese executives asking former Gov. Jim Hunt about something called the “golden triangle.”

In just a few hours, RTP will unveil its own “island” in the 3-D online virtual world of Second Life, thanks to a partnership with RTI International. But more is coming.

This week, celebrates its golden anniversary in grand, global style by hosting the prestigious International Association of Science Parks’ annual conference. Raleigh’s new convention center is the site for the first event the group has put on in the U.S. Rick Weddle, president of Research Triangle Foundation, which operates RTP, is pulling out all the media tools that the Web now enables to tout the global wonder around which much of North Carolina’s future revolves.

More than 800 scientists, researchers, economic recruiters and research park execs are journeying to Raleigh for the despite the global recession. Journalists from Russia, China and Denmark as well as Science Magazine and Business Week are to attend as well. But Weddle isn’t stopping there.

Although he admits he’s an “old geezer” and somewhat new to social media, Weddle along with his staff and the folks at media agency Capstrat are touting the conference on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn – and more. Weddle even uses Twitter now to “tweet” text messages. Then there’s the Second Life “island.”

In fact, Weddle recruited a team of bloggers to help cover the event. And Science in the Triangle is devoting its Web site to take the park’s conference into the world of Web 2.0.

The science group’s will feature live blogposts in addition to video.

The social media offensive is part of Weddle’s strategy to make the conference “more than a one-off event.” He wants to use coverage and information about the three-day event to provide perpetual, multimedia exposure and publicity for the Triangle.

After all, RTP is all about research, development and economic growth. Weddle is always on a global prowl for new businesses to locate in the Triangle – or for existing clients to expand operations in North Carolina rather than elsewhere.

The conference alone will provide plenty of global publicity since people from 52 countries will be on hand. More than 50 percent of the attendees are from outside the U.S., Weddle noted proudly, despite the recession and fears about swine flu. Of the world’s top 41 trade parks, 20 are sending delegations. In fact, he expects attendance to be 15 percent higher than for the most recent research park trade show which took place in Barcelona two years ago.

“We have both the old hands in the business as well as the up-and-comers,” Weddle said with a smile.

The social media tools will help Weddle spread the RTP “golden triangle” message to young and old alike – even Weddle, who has learned to tweet any time, any where about the park he calls home.