Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Megan R Carter and Kerstin A Lehnert, Columbia University, Palisades, NY, United States
Vast amounts of physical samples have been collected in the Earth Sciences for studies that address a wide range of scientific questions. Only a fraction of these samples are well curated and preserved long-term in sample repositories and museums. Many samples and collections are stored in the offices and labs of investigators, or in basements and sheds of institutions and investigators’ homes. These ‘uncurated’ collections often contain samples that have been well studied, or are unique and irreplaceable. They may also include samples that could reveal new insights if re-analyzed using new techniques, or specimens that could have unanticipated relevance to research being conducted in fields other than the one for which they were collected. Currently, these samples cannot be accessed or discovered online by the broader science community. Investigators and departments often lack the resources to properly catalog and curate the samples and respond to requests for splits. Long-term preservation of and access to these samples is usually not provided for.

iSamplES, a recently-funded EarthCube Research Coordination Network (RCN), seeks to integrate scientific samples, including ‘uncurated’ samples, into digital data and information infrastructure in the Earth Sciences and to facilitate their curation, discovery, access, sharing, and analysis. The RCN seeks to develop and implement best practices that increase digital access to samples with the goal of establishing a comprehensive infrastructure not only for the digital, but also physical curation of samples. The RCN will engage a broad group of individuals from domain scientists to curators to publishers to computer scientists to define, articulate, and address the needs and challenges of digital sample management and recommend community-endorsed best practices and standards for registering, describing, identifying, and citing physical specimens, drawing upon other initiatives and existing or emerging software tools for digital sample and collection management. Community engagement will include surveys, in-person workshops and outreach events, the creation of the iSamplES knowledge hub (semantic wiki) and a registry of collections. iSamplES will specifically engage early career scientists to encourage that no samples go uncurated.