The transformational power of IT is growing at a rate that is genuinely breathtaking. So it’s really no surprise that many researchers aren’t using all the tools available to help them to work more creatively and efficiently, say Jisc programme managers Torsten Reimer and Chris Brown.
Colleges and universities have limited resources to help researchers get to grips with IT, which is why Jisc’s Research Tools programme funds and supports a number of projects to ensure that digital infrastructure and tools are fit for purpose, and that researchers are encouraged and supported to incorporate them into their work.
Recent projects are bringing about real change for the institutions involved with them, and their outcomes will be rolled out more widely over the next months and years. Here’s what could be coming to a lab (or other research environment) near you very soon…
1. A more streamlined research cycle
The Universities of Oxford, Reading and Southampton are putting the finishing touches to Neurohub, a framework and set of tools developed to help neuroscientists streamline lab processes and boost the productivity of research cycles. Neuroscience, pharmacology and biological science researchers have helped shape the tools, which have clear applications for other disciplines.
2. The paperless laboratory
Traditional lab notebooks and pens could soon be a thing of the past, as Cambridge University’s Electronic Lab Notebooks or CamELS look set to transform the way that goals, methods, observations, results and data are organised, recorded and stored, making it easier to find and share experiences and data, and to collaborate. A key application of the CamELS project so far is… (see 3)
3. Superfast creation of superior molecules
Dial A-Molecule, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), is promoting research into how to make molecules in days, rather than years. Collaboration, and the collection of reaction data in a structured way, are crucial, and CamELS (see 2) is being used because it was ready for immediate adoption. The goal is to make it cheaper, greener and quicker to synthesise molecules, and to make the best version for the job achievable, more often. Dial-A-Molecule aims to help UK researchers re-define the way molecules are made worldwide.
4. 21st century training for researchers into the past
The Institute of Historical Research (IHR) has found that a lack of awareness of online research tools is hampering historical researchers. So the Histore project, led by IHR and the University of London, has focused on promoting and embedding the use of online research tools in virtual research environments (VREs) by creating resources and free training packages tailored to historical research. Outputs from the programme are available now.
5. Better access to anonymised e-health records
Until now, shared access to the text in e-health patient records has represented a huge ethical challenge. The University of Leeds and commercial partner, The Phoenix Partnership, have led on the e-Health GATEway to the Clouds project, creating a software plug-in for the open source GATE natural language processing system to help to identify false names in free format text, so researchers can use it more safely, while following best ethical practice guidelines.
Applied more widely, the project demonstrates how GATE can support use of the cloud for research with sensitive identifiable free text.
6. A clearer window on the natural world
With limited numbers of researchers, and finite resources at their disposal, getting detailed and up-to-date information about plant and animal populations has been pretty impossible. Now, a new project being led by the University of Bristol will harness the power of the people to locate and identify bat populations. The BatMobile mobile app records and analyses the sounds of these highly secretive animals, with a view to developing a detailed map of bat species in the UK.
7. Stronger, more supportive research networks
Semantic data and data visualisation techniques are two of the methods being used by the Inspire project to develop the SPIRES research community. Led by Coventry University, Inspire aims to support SPIRES members, who are spread far and wide, working in many different research areas. A key aim is to support the discovery of new research themes and areas for productive collaboration.
8. Enhanced access to interdisciplinary resources
EnviLOD is exploring ways to use Linked Open Data to enable discovery and sharing in the challenging, multidisciplinary area of environmental science via unique, machine-readable, interlinked open vocabularies. Led by the University of Sheffield, partnering with the British Library and HR Wallingford, the project is looking into semantic annotation tools to enrich metadata and content automatically, and also developing information access facilities that will lead researchers to relevant documents that could not be found through a simple keyword search.
This article originally featured in issue 35 of Jisc Inform (UK web archive).