Cornell, partners developing $12.2M Web network for scientists

By William Kates, AP
Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Scientists hope to network Facebook-style

ITHACA, N.Y. — Social networking is coming to the science lab.

Cornell University and six other institutions will use a $12.2 million federal stimulus grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a Facebook-style professional networking system to link biomedical researchers across the country.

Participants say 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.

The new network will be called VIVOweb.

“Scientists have problems finding each other,” said Michael Conlon, interim director of biomedical informatics for the University of Florida and the principal investigator on the project.

“Right now, the best we have are lists of publications … but that’s not the same as who does what and who is interested in what. This is a way for scientists to discover other scientific work going on among researchers on the network,” he said.

Presently, scientists use search engines to find others in their fields or people specializing in other areas needed for their research. But those searches are essentially guesses that glean information from a variety of sources, some of which can be unreliable, said Dean Krafft, who is leading the project at Cornell.

The new networking system will include information added by institutions, academic journals, and researchers themselves, said Krafft, who is chief technology strategist for Cornell’s library system.

The network will use emerging technology called the Semantic Web — a faster, more searchable next-generation version of the Internet — to make the information available. The public can access the site but some information will be available only to scientists.

Although users will still view the information on what looks like regular Web pages, the open-source software developed by Cornell actually collects the facts a person wants and assembles its own page.

Developed at Cornell in 2003, VIVO allows users to browse or search for information about Cornell faculty and staff across all disciplines, departments and colleges. Similar networks are now in place at other universities and large institutions, but nothing that transcends multiple institutions, Krafft said.

Participants hope to have the network connected across the country within two years. Eventually, it could connect scientists in all disciplines worldwide.

Also helping create the network is Indiana University at Bloomington. Four other institutions — Scripps Research Institute in Juniper, Fla., Ponce School of Medicine in Puerto Rico, Washington University of St. Louis, and Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City — will serve as implementation sites.

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