A vision for speeding up science and technology developments

As David Wojick explains in his article, "Mapping technology chaos," on page 36, power engineers are under the gun to innovate. The president and Congress are calling for dramatic new advances in power technology. They are even considering legislating progress in areas such as efficiency and emissions control.

Turning data into information

Power engineers know better than anyone that progress is incremental and never easy. There is no magic wand just waiting to be waved. The only way to meet ambitious technology goals is by combining myriad small advances quickly and efficiently. The problem is finding the research results and expertise needed to do that.

The U.S. Department of Energy spends billions of dollars a year on science and technology research related to power production. And the DOE’s Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI) has a strategy—not just a desire—for accelerating progress in science and technology across the board. Technology advances only if science is shared, and OSTI wants to speed up that sharing. The cost of sharing knowledge is very small compared to the cost of creating it, so OSTI’s strategy is economically efficient as well.

The amount of ongoing power generation-related research is already enormous, and many people are calling for funding a lot more. The higher the haystack of research gets, the harder it is to find a needle that may be useful. Making searches of the vast amount of available research more efficient is OSTI’s objective.

Web accessibility is just the beginning of the solution, not the end. General search engines like Google do not access 90% or more of web-accessible science and technology content. The vast majority of research material is found only in document databases that web crawlers cannot reach, because each database has to be searched separately. Google is of no help here. Manually searching multiple research databases and integrating the results is simply too time-consuming to make sense.

Any portal in a storm

OSTI is pioneering a different (and uniquely feasible) approach, called database federation. The technique enables users to search multiple databases with a single query entered at a federated portal. Results are presented as a consolidated ranking. OSTI and its counterparts in other federal research agencies have already federated about 50 million pages of research for your retrieval.

Database federation is only the first step in scaling the research mountain. There’s a lot more to do—and being done. For example, the DOE recently set the stage for expanding the domain of federation to other countries when the under secretary for science signed an historic agreement with the British Library to collaborate on the development of a global science gateway. Similar efforts are in the works with other countries. OSTI already participates in high-volume international document-sharing agreements involving energy technology and nuclear energy.

Moving at warp speed

Another ongoing OSTI project, called the Science Accelerator, seeks to federate research and development document databases from around the world. Significantly, the Science Accelerator will feature two-way language translation, because most research reports are written in the researcher’s language. After the Science Accelerator translates a query into all languages of interest, it would execute the search and translate the "hits" back into the searcher’s language.

The Science Accelerator also will use advanced clustering and tracking tools to help engineers and scientists see what’s happening in a given research area as well as the direction(s) in which research may (or should be) heading. Visualization is expected to be a big part of the tools’ functionality. OSTI may be a small agency, but it is actively researching ways to add 21st-century features to existing and future search tools. The goal of that effort is the same: speeding up the advance of science and technology.

The Science Accelerator represents a window on the future, but today OSTI provides a number of powerful search tools tailored to helping people find relevant science and technology research in a time- and cost-effective way. Those tools can search research reports, project summaries, conference proceedings, scholarly articles, and much more. Many of them can do full-text searches, ferreting out useful details of research along with the highlights.

Power engineers are important contributors to and users of science and technology research. We at OSTI urge them to use our tools to solve their technology problems by collaborating and sharing information with the multitude of existing research communities worldwide. Why wait for word of a new technology to reach you when you can go get it yourself in a few minutes?

Dr. Walter Warnick is director of the DOE’s Office of Scientific and Technical Information. He can be reached at 301-903-7996 or [email protected].

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