University of Florida receives $12,2 million to establish national network of scientists

Gainesville 20 October 2009Imagine a website like Facebook, but instead of using it to share videos or post quizzes like "What '80s song are you?" scientists could scour a national network of researchers, only a few mouse clicks separating them from information needed for a scientific breakthrough. That's the goal of a $12,2 million National Center for Research Resources grant awarded to the University of Florida and collaborators at Cornell University, Indiana University, Weill Cornell Medical College, Washington University in St. Louis, the Scripps Research Institute and the Ponce School of Medicine in Puerto Rico. The funding stems from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Advertisement

During the next two years, researchers will implement a new type of networking system at the seven schools that eventually will link researchers across the country and world to like-minded peers and potential collaborators. By making it easier for scientists to find each other, researchers will be able to improve their ongoing studies and forge collaborations that could lead to new discoveries, said Michael Conlon, interim director of biomedical informatics for the University of Florida and the principal investigator on the grant.

"The goal of the programme is national networking of all scientists", Michael Conlon stated. "Scientists have problems finding each other. We often find that researchers have pretty good networks with students or with scientists at institutions where they received their degree or worked before. But they don't always know people even at their own institutions."

The new programme will draw information about scientists from official, verifiable sources and make it available using a type of technology called the Semantic Web.

For example, information about researchers' positions will come from their employers and a listing of their published articles will come from the journals, while researchers will provide information regarding their interests. Although users will still view the information on what looks like regular web pages, the software developed by Cornell researchers actually collects the facts a person wants and assembles its own page.

"The Semantic Web is a collection of facts, rather than pages. It is really for computers to search and find things and present them in a reasonable way", Michael Conlon stated. "It's a next-generation type concept."

By fostering alliances, it is hoped that biomedical research and discovery will move faster. The project will rest on VIVO, a technology developed at Cornell since 2003. It built a comprehensive network of scientists that identified existing projects and initiated new co-operation.

"Before VIVO, the Cornell librarians heard a lot of frustration from faculty members who couldn't find collaborators from different disciplines across campus", stated Medha Devare, Cornell librarian for bioinformatics and life sciences. "The idea of VIVO was to transcend administrative divisions and create a single point of access for scholarly interaction. Now that VIVO is expanding across institutions, the biomedical community will be able to benefit from that bird's eye perspective of their research."

The idea for a database of researchers first sprouted at the University of Florida when two librarians at University of Florida's Marston Science Library proposed using Cornell's VIVO software at University of Florida to help scientists better find research articles published by University of Florida faculty members.

Touted as a research discovery tool, VIVO is open-source software that allows people to search all publicly known information about a specific topic or researcher in one site. On Cornell's VIVO site, a search for the word "cancer", for example, yields dozens of results, but they are broken up into categories like "people", "opportunities" and "topics". Clicking on "topics" takes one to another set of subgroups that allows searchers to more quickly find exactly what they want.

"I saw the power VIVO had to show the research coming out of an institution", stated Valrie Davis, a University of Florida outreach librarian for agricultural science who teamed with University of Florida librarian Sara Russell Gonzalez to propose using VIVO at University of Florida after seeing it presented at a conference. "VIVO is an open source tool to connect people with common research interests. It's going to link people together. I think that is the most important part of this grant."

The grant supports a National Institutes of Health (NIH) goal to establish a national network of scientists. The NIH also wanted such a network to contain verifiable data. Using VIVO was a perfect fit, Michael Conlon said.

"Five years of time, energy and imagination created VIVO, and now that work is paying off in ways we had only imagined before", stated Anne R. Kenney, the Carl A. Kroch University Librarian at Cornell. "This major partnership enables us to extend the capabilities of all of our institutions and reach further than we would be able to alone. Creating strong connections between institutions is a fundamental building block in advancing the mission of 21st-century research libraries."

Initially, each institution involved in the grant will establish its own network of researchers. Librarians will implement the software and will offer support to researchers once they begin using it. Within two years, the team hopes to have the network connected across the country. Eventually, Michael Conlon said the researchers would also like to broaden the scope of the project to include researchers around the world.

"We think this will have a huge multiplier effect and will allow researchers to find new partners and other ways to use their research", stated Judith Russell, dean of the University Libraries at the University of Florida. "For years, librarians have helped researchers find the information they need. This is another type of critical information scientists need."

Cornell will spearhead the development of the multi-institutional functionality of the VIVO technology; the University of Florida will focus on developing technology for keeping each site's data current; and Indiana University Bloomington will develop social networking tools to enable researchers to find others with similar interests. Four other institutions - Scripps Research Institute, Juniper, Florida; Ponce School of Medicine, Ponce, Puerto Rico; Washington University of St. Louis; and the Weill Cornell Medical College, New York City - will serve as implementation sites.

Jon Corson-Rikert, head of Information Technology Services at Cornell's Mann Library, initially developed VIVO in 2003. As researchers and administrators embraced the newly created network, a team of programmers, designers and librarians expanded the project to all other disciplines at Cornell.

Other universities began to explore the open-source, free software. VIVO has been adopted for local networks at other universities and institutions in the United States, Australia and China. This new project will follow VIVO's original model and build a multi-institutional platform for the biomedical community.

The Cornell effort to develop VIVOweb will be led by Dean Krafft, the Library's chief technology strategist, Jon Corson-Rikert and Medha Devare. VIVOweb's open Semantic Web/Linked Data approach will empower researchers to extend their research communities - not just via prior knowledge or serendipity, but through recommendation or suggestion networks based on common traits described in the VIVOweb researcher profiles.


Source: University of Florida

[Medical IT News][Calendar][Virtual Medical Worlds Community][News on Advanced IT]