Making research more effective

eScience makes research more effective by opening up for new types of collaboration. Researchers who use modern ICT infrastructure to share knowledge with others can achieve more in a shorter amount of time.
 Making research more effective
“Researchers must open their eyes to the new possibilities that eScience gives. There are still many researchers who do not realise that they can do their work more effectively when taking advantage of the possibilities inherent in eScience”, says Gudmund Høst of The Research Council of Norway.

eScience is about modern ICT (Information and communication technology, editors comment) making it possible to collaborate in new ways. Electronic infrastructure in the shape of supercomputers, databases and instruments connected by fiberoptic data networks makes it possible to transfer large amounts of data across borders.

Grid – technology for everyone
Part of eScience is to develop flexible software, giving users easy access to data resources. That way there is no need to adapt the technology to each research project.

”Grid-technology is a kind of further development of the World Wide Web. This technology allows all involved parties in a project to easily make use of different resources through the Internet”, Høst says.

“The basis is a well distributed research net with near unlimited transfer capacity. These lines give a new kind of closeness between the users. They make possible for instance the direct transfer of high-resolution video. Large transfer capacities enable increasingly more advanced services”, he relates.

New opportunities
An example of an eScience project is the international Physiome cooperation. The goal of the project is to make mathematical models of all levels of the human body, from genes to organs.

By connecting these models the project group tries to establish the connection between genomic structure and heart function. Center for Integrative Genetics (CIGENE) at the University of Life Sciences (UMB) is part of this cooperation, financed by The Norwegian Research Council’s eVITA programme”, relates Høst.

Reducing costs and risk
The above example shows that eScience makes it possible for a research environment in Norway to collaborate with international research environments on exploiting very advanced and costly technologies.

“eScience gives researchers in a number of fields opportunities and advantages that previously did not exist. With this technology they do not have to carry out a number of experiments that are either very dangerous or costly. Besides, through eScience it is now possible to carry out computer experiments that would be difficult or impossible to carry out in real life, like large fires or terrorist attacks”, says Høst.

Pioneering Nordic initiative
The Nordic ministers of research and education see the possibilities inherent in eScience and wishes to put them into use. To that end, in April they jointly asked the NORIA-net to draft an action plan for eScience. The action plan is now completed and was presented to the Nordic Council of Minister on the 1st of December. A draft version of the plan was discussed and very well received at a conference in Stockholm in November.

Leading representatives for the Nordic countries expressed a wish to strengthen the Nordic research cooperation and the eScience infrastructure. After all, this is infrastructure for everyone and can just as easily be used within linguistics and social sciences as within the more technical fields of science.

“The role of eScience is to be at the forefront and make the new types of research cooperation known to people”, states Høst.

The eScience Action Plan is divided into three main areas: higher education, research and infrastructure.

“The most interesting for us at The Research Council are the research and infrastructure parts”, Høst says.

Measures for eScience research
The Action Plan includes a proposal to establish a common Nordic research programme to address grand research challenges using eScience as a working tool.

“Where can we make a real difference? In which areas is it most useful and effective to combine forces, research environments and data resources?” Høst asks.

”In addition we have to build a national platform for eScience. We already have the eVITA-programme, which looks at methods for combining data with mathematical models. In Norway this is useful for instance within fields like health, epidemiology, ocean modelling, petroleum extraction and meteorology”, says Høst.

Measures for eInfrastructure
The eScience Action Plan suggests an organisational system that gives the research environments access to each others’ registers and databases. “This opens up large possibilities for the researchers”, says Høst.

” The sharing of data is one thing. Another area of development is making a tool for this sharing of both data and calculation resources. This tool is what we call grid. When it comes to grid, we in the Nordic region are at an advanced stage compared to the rest of the world. We work together on analysing the data from CERN, The European Organization for Nuclear Research.

CERN generates extremely large quantities of data. The data is distributed and analysed in various places around the world. The results of the analyses are in turn distributed in the Nordic grid network.

”In our Nordic visual centre, The Nordic Data Grid Facility (NDGF), we have developed solutions that are world leading. People all over the world are interested in and use our solutions. The NDGF is jointly financed by the Nordic research councils, and The Research Council of Norway contributes NOK 4 million per year until 2010. One issue in the Action Plan is how to take this further”, says Høst.

Research schools
eScience is also about pedagogic cooperation.
“We are few people in Norway and in the other Nordic countries, and research education is in its nature highly specialised. When we join forces, we can give specialised research courses to more people and thus improve the research education. At the same time personal networks between people will be developed early on in their research careers. Such network building would be a ground pillar in strengthening the Nordic region as a forerunner in research and innovation based on eScience, says Høst.

Nordic Data Grid Facility (NDGF)
Nordic Data Grid Facility (NDGF) is a Nordic cooperation project developing services for access to and shared use of electronic resources (heavy calculation facilities, data storage facilities, etc.) useful for all fields of science. The NDGF was established in 2007. NDGF takes the countries’ own available electronic resources as its point of departure and shall prepare for a flexible sharing of resources within the Nordic region. Norway has signed an agreement of intention with the other Nordic countries, about a joint financing until 2010. Norway’s agreed share to the NDGF is NOK 4 million per year for the period 2008-2010.

Source: The Research Council of Norway