Presentation Open Access

Building transdisciplinary infrastructure for natural history material samples with the Internet of Samples (iSamples)

Walls, Ramona; Davies, Neil; Kansa, Sarah; Kunze, John; Lehnert, Kerstin; Vieglais, David

Presentation at the 2020 SPNHC & ICOM NATHIST Conference

Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) and International Council of Museums Committee for Museums and Collections of Natural History (ICOM NATHIST)

YouTube recording of the presentation


Many types of research, including studies of nutrient flux, environmental health, or crop diseases, require collection and analysis of both biotic (microbial, plant, animal) and soil, water, or rock samples, yet there is no single resource that can give identifiers to samples and track data about all their materials. The current ecosystem of sample and collection management in the U.S. and globally is highly fragmented across stakeholders including museums, federal agencies, academic institutions, and individual researchers, with a multitude of institutional catalogs, diverse practices for sample identification, and discipline-specific data and metadata standards. The Internet of Samples (iSamples) is an emerging, transdisciplinary infrastructure providing services to uniquely, consistently, and conveniently identify material samples, record metadata about them, and link them to other samples, derived data, and research results published in the scientific literature. iSamples Central will provide a low-overhead central discovery and resolution service for any community that wishes to participate, while iSamples-in-a-Box will deliver distributed infrastructure tailored to the needs of specific research domains. iSamples will initially focus on natural history samples – any sample where geolocation is of primary importance – but can scale to any domain. iSamples will extend existing domain- and sample-specific cyberinfrastructure, such as the IGSN Global Sample Number, DataONE, CyVerse, Genomic Observatories Metadata Database (GEOME), System for Earth Sample Registration (SESAR), and Open Context, rendering a cross-domain infrastructure that can serve all samples from the natural and built environment. iSamples will allow scientists to track natural history samples, their derivatives, associated metadata, and data products. iSamples is a single, distributed, transdisciplinary infrastructure based on domain-neutral technologies, standards, and consistent sample identification that is extensible to accommodate domain-specific needs. The project will thus enhance existing research within disciplines while enabling new research across them. A consistent approach to linking material samples with data, literature, and with other identifiable entities in the scholarly research ecosystem is fundamental for broad adoption and implementation by all stakeholders, including federal agencies, museums, publishers, funders, research data infrastructure providers, and individual researchers.

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