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National Data Service kicks off with the Materials Data Facility

In nearly every field of science, experiments, instruments, observations, sensors, simulations, and surveys are generating massive data volumes that grow at exponential rates. Discoverable, shareable data enables collaboration and supports repurposing for new discoveries — and for cross-disciplinary research enabled by exchange across communities that include both scientists and citizens.

The National Data Service is an international federation of data providers, data aggregators, community-specific federations, publishers, and cyberinfrastructure providers. It builds on the data archiving and sharing efforts underway within specific communities, and links them together with a common set of tools. Video and cover image courtesy the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

More than 70 representatives from organizations across the US and around the world gathered in June in Boulder, Colorado, US, to begin turning the vision — an infrastructure that supports data from all disciplines of science, engineering, and humanities, one where researchers can easily find, reuse, and publish data — into a reality.

Organized by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), US, the National Data Service (NDS) consortium is an international federation of data providers, data aggregators, community-specific federations, publishers, and cyberinfrastructure providers. The NCSA is leading the effort, with help from the UIUC, the University of Chicago in Illinois, US, and The University of Texas at Austin, US.

Participants at the kickoff meeting discussed the key capabilities and surrounding issues of a national infrastructure. These include how the NDS can fit into the publishing process and provide the links necessary to connect literature and data. They also looked at how the NDS can connect to and build on data infrastructure already in place within specific communities like the Research Data Alliance (RDA) and data infrastructure projects like EUDAT, relying on partners to help ensure data service interoperability across global communities.

Most importantly, they discussed which projects to pursue in the next year to build out the NDS functions. The NDS announced its first endeavor just one week after the kickoff meeting in Boulder. As part of the Materials Genome Initiative (MGI), established by US President Obama in 2011, the Materials Data Facility (MDF) will be the first pilot program under the NDS. The MDF will provide a repository where scientists can preserve and share materials and research data, produced by both simulations and experiments. Sharing the NDS vision, MDF goals include doubling the pace of development of advanced materials research.

“This will be the first online facility to build on the objectives of the National Data Service by providing open access to a broad a range of materials science data. This is a terrific opportunity to accelerate materials discovery and advance manufacturing, by deeply connecting research, data and publication activities,” says Ed Seidel, director of NCSA.

Through the MDF’s cloud-hosted data publication and discovery services, materials research projects will have an essential platform for rapid data sharing, discovery, and analysis, accelerating the process of bringing new materials into industrial use. The online facility will incorporate multi-petabyte storage environments at NCSA and at Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago, Illinois, US, as well as the Globus research data management service operated by the Computation Institute at the University of Chicago in Illinois, US.

According to Dane Morgan, member of the Computational Materials Group in the Materials Science and Engineering program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, US, open access to materials data on a massive scale will enable better use and reuse of valuable data — ultimately making research and manufacturing processes more efficient. “From higher energy density batteries to lighter stronger metals, a materials data facility has the potential to transform the materials which underlie much of modern technology,” says Morgan.

William P. King, Bliss Professor of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, US, and chief technology officer at the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute, agrees. "There is a natural fit between the National Data Service, the Materials Genome Initiative, and the Digital Design and Manufacturing Innovation Institute, announced by President Obama in February,” King notes. “American manufacturing companies can realize the benefits of digital manufacturing technologies only if they have access to high-quality materials data."

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