Everybody knows about the Midwest. It's where Johnny Carson grew up without developing an accent. It's that expanse of rolling country where our food comes from.

But exactly where is it? That's a tougher question, and a geography professor got some surprising answers when he put it to university students across the nation.

James Shortridge of the University of Kansas set out a year ago to find the Midwest. Never mind that by living in Lawrence, Kan., most people would says he's already there.

He wanted a more scientific definitaion of the region for a study of its culture. So for starters, he distributed questionnaires to 3,000 freshmen and sophomores at state universities in 31 states.

Here's what he found:

Students from 20 states defined the heart of the Midwest as Nebraska or Kansas -- states on the western fringe of the 12-state region formally called the Midwest by academicians.

And 1 percent of the Washington state residents who responded said they considered their state Midwestern, as did 9 percent of the Californians, 2 percent of Alabamians and 3 percent of the West Virginians. c

In Ohion, easternmost state of the traditional region, only 47 percent of students polled claimed Midwestern residence.

The dictionary definition of the Midwest includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. But Shortridge says that definition is misleading.

"It's a perceptual region. You have to go with the perceptions of the people." Shortridge says. "Maybe originally, people had the perceptual view of the Midwest with Illinois in the center, the image of a small-town rural America.

"But time passes. Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland grow up and don't seem to fit into the traditional definition. So what people do is keep the old definition and move the area. The definition now fits the Plains more than the old area."

"In general, the people from Midwestern states -- however you define them -- say things like, "The Midwest is the real America, with frienly, open people, a slower pace of life."