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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

IBM, URI developing new technology to assist researchers

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862

Social media component to allow scientists to share project status, publishing activity and proposed projects with others around world

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 18, 2011 – IBM and the University of Rhode Island’s College of Pharmacy are developing tools that will help researchers more easily find funding opportunities, collaborators from around in the world and provide them with the latest published research findings in their fields.

Carol Osipov, senior information technology architect at IBM, said there are three major components to the project—use of cloud technology, which allows data to be stored on and retrieved from a network instead of a server; social profile applications and analytics. The social media application will provide scientists with their own profile pages, which will allow them to connect easily with collaborators and others with interest in the research, and get important news whenever the researcher wants to update her project or profile.

“This IBM-URI College of Pharmacy project holds promise for accelerating the process of locating research support opportunities, forming winning research teams and efficiently collaborating in the creation of research funding proposals,” said Ronald P. Jordan, dean of URI’s College of Pharmacy. “The rate of change we are experiencing in scientific discovery and processes, which support academic research, is exponential. This technology gives us the opportunity to not only keep pace, but potentially further advance it, to the advantage of the University and our state. I’m grateful that IBM gave our college a chance to participate in the early stages of developing this work.”

Osipov said once the initial information and data about professors and their research projects and background is entered, the system will be able to “crawl” for research opportunities and suggest them automatically to researchers in the field, download contact information, grant opportunities, journal publications and suggest potential collaborations among researchers based on that data.

“As more and more data and publications are introduced around the world, it is getting harder and harder to find the specific information that could be of help to a researcher,” Osipov said. “This system addresses that growing need.”

Daniel Udwary, assistant professor of pharmacy and director of the bioinformatics section of a $42 million federal biomedical science research program based at URI’s College of Pharmacy, said such technology would have been great when he arrived at URI three years ago.

“When I got here and started to investigate who was working on natural products, I would look at websites and maybe the information would be accurate. Sometimes it wasn’t, so getting reliable information on scientists took a considerable amount of time.

“I thought it would be great if a tool existed that would provide me with scientists’ names, detailed background information on their work, academic journal citations and contact information,” Udwary said. “That tool would be able to get me current, usable information to my computer in a matter of seconds.”

Now Udwary and other pharmacy faculty members are working with IBM’s Osipov, to create such a product. IBM chose URI for the project because of a shared commitment to research and innovation. URI will get the first access to the technology, and IBM will gain knowledge about the technology from its use by the University.

The College of Pharmacy and IBM began working on the project about 11 months ago and signed a formal agreement in December 2010.

Udwary said such technology would be an important development for someone like him who specializes in bioinformatics, the field that uses information technology like computers to conduct biological research and make comparisons between organisms. “We are using computers to analyze complicated DNA sequences,” he added.

“One of the goals of the URI-IBM project is to use information technology to link me to researchers with similar specialties to strengthen the bioinformatics focus area at URI and around the state,” he said. “You would think that in a small state like Rhode Island, this would be relatively easy. But for a new professor like me, it could be a very difficult task. Even in our own college, it is difficult for administrators and faculty to be aware of all of the research projects being done.”

For most of the last year, IBM has been working with the pharmacy college to collect data from its website, faculty biographical and academic records and the research grant process.

“The major hurdle is not the software,” Udwary said. “IBM needs to know what scientists need and what they need to know about each other. This has been a fun project. This project marries many of the social media tools, with analytics, project management software to create academic social networks.”