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U Rhode Island Researchers To Test IBM Academic Social Networks

The University of Rhode Island has begun working with IBM on a project that will test out the company's ability to automate some of the work involved in connecting researchers to funding sources and collaborators. The project brings IBM and U Rhode Island's College of Pharmacy together to try out a patented IBM invention that uses data analytics, cloud computing technologies, social networking, and optimization software.

The IBM application provides scientists with their own profile pages, which will allow them to make contact with collaborators and others with interest in the research. Once the initial data is entered, the system will "crawl" through its data store and automatically suggest and download contact information on researchers in the field; recommend potential collaborations; and provide data on grant opportunities and journal publications.

Current research at U Rhode Island includes a $42 million federal biomedical science program. Under the agreement, the university will get the first access to the technology, and IBM will gain knowledge about how it can be advanced by learning how it is used in the field.

The college and IBM began working on the project about 11 months ago and signed a formal agreement in December 2010. For most of that time IBM has been working to collect data from the college's Web site, faculty biographical and academic records, and details from the research grant process.

"This 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 Jordan, dean of the 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."

An assistant professor involved in that multi-million-dollar research project added that one of the goals of the initiative is to use IT to link researchers with common interests. "You would think that in a small state like Rhode Island, this would be relatively easy. But it can be a very difficult task," said Daniel Udwary. "Even in our own college, it is difficult for administrators and faculty to be aware of all of the research projects being done."

"The major hurdle is not the software," Udwary added. "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."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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