Vol 9. Issue 32 / October 26, 2009

Consortium to Establish National Network of Scientists

By April Frawley Birdwell and Mika Ono

Imagine a Web site 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 two-year $12.2 million National Center for Research Resources grant awarded today to a group of institutions including The Scripps Research Institute. Led by the University of Florida, the consortium also includes Indiana University, Weill Cornell Medical College, Washington University at St. Louis, and the Ponce School of Medicine in Puerto Rico. The funding stems from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The Scripps Research portion of the grant is more than $250,000.

During the next two years, researchers will implement a new type of networking system at the seven collaborating 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, the new system will help researchers improve their ongoing studies and forge collaborations that could lead to new discoveries.

"I am hopeful that implementation of the system will give our faculty a useful tool for discovering who is engaged in similar research," said Cary Thomas, a Scripps Research senior vice president, "and that those connections will help the science."

"We are delighted to be one of the founding nodes of the VIVO network," said Gerald Joyce, dean of the Scripps Research faculty. "Soon our scientists will be able to link to vivo.scripps.edu and meet colleagues and potential collaborators throughout the country."

The new program 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, a listing of their published articles will come from the journals, while researchers will provide information regarding their interests themselves. 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 idea for a database of researchers first sprouted at UF when two librarians at UF's Marston Science Library proposed using Cornell's VIVO software at UF to help scientists better find research articles published by UF 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.

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 seemed a perfect fit. 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.

"We are honored to have been invited to participate in this project," said Paula King, the Scripps Research Kresge library director. "Library staff are enthused about bringing this new technology to Scripps. We expect it to help researchers to connect to each other and to new colleagues beyond our institution, enriching their scholarly networks, and strengthening the science."

Within two years, the team hopes to have the network connected across the country. Eventually, the researchers would also like to broaden the scope of the project to include researchers around the world.



Send comments to: mikaono[at]scripps.edu









"We are delighted to be one of the founding nodes of the VIVO network."

—Gerald Joyce