Rensselaer Research Review Summer 2009
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Semantic Web
The Semantic Web technology being created in the Tetherless World Research Constellation will allow scientists, educators, and people around the world to access data on a variety of topics all in one place, bringing together scientific data in unprecedented ways. Represented here are just some of the areas that would intersect during a search for data on the Earth’s atmosphere.
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Open Source Coding: Interactive Discovery

All of their semantic coding will be open source, making it available to others on the Web seeking new ways to share data.

“We want to accelerate the growth of community knowledge,” McGuinness said. “We want to encourage others to look at the data, interpret the data in their own ways, reuse the data, and even verify the data.”

Fox, McGuinness, and Hendler see the technology helping to lead a revolution in the citation and, possibly, review of scientific data. Much like Wikipedia, the data on their Web sites and technologies will be viewed and used by users from leading scientific experts to elementary school teachers and all those reviewers will be able to comment and cite the data.

“There will be extensive new opportunities to review the data,” Fox said. “It may not be a traditional peer review as is the custom in scientific publication because many people will not be experts, but each user will bring a very legitimate point of view to the data, particularly when they use it in new and different ways.” Thus, a school teacher could make a discovery on sea level change that an oceanographer may never have found. 

Semantic Tagging for Ease of Verification and Citation

The ease of access to the data will also allow other scientists to quickly reproduce and verify a data set. Often in a scientific paper, there will be a scientific figure or image that represents a data set. Raw data is rarely presented, making it extremely difficult for another scientist to pick up where another left off or even reproduce the results, according to Fox. The new semantic technology will mediate access to the raw data and in a vocabulary that the end user can understand.

In addition to ease sharing data, the semantic technologies will also allow for ease of citation when using data created by someone else. Access to certain data sets can be controlled and with semantic tags attached to the data of their source, and users can easily give credit to the original creator of the data that they are utilizing, while data creators can track exactly who is looking at their data. “For the first time, we could see scientists citing online services in peer review journals,” McGuinness said. 

Semantic e-science is an area of unique specialization within the Tetherless World Research Constellation, which is comprised of “star” faculty who mentor up-and-coming faculty, graduate and undergraduate students in fields ranging from computer science to informatics. Their collective research and teaching efforts center on the emerging field of Web Science and seeks new ways to understand and harness the inner workings of one of the most powerful research, social, and commerce technologies of our time.

Funding from the NSF was awarded as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). To date, Rensselaer has received nearly $7.3 million in funding through the ARRA.

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