David Groenewegen, Director of Research at Monash University Library
Doing outstanding research has never been easy. For researchers working on the cutting edge of ideas, there has always been the need to design and build new tools, and new ways of looking at what they find.
Instruments we now take for granted – thermometers, oscilloscopes, sound recorders, telescopes, and so on – all needed to be invented, refined and integrated into clearly understood workflows and practices.
This has resulted in the ‘scientific method’, as demonstrated by the use of a microscope (see illustration). In recent times explosive growth in the use of information technology and computing has impacted on the scale of this process, but not the method. In response, Monash University has been creating a microscope for the 21st century.
This concept, as applied to imaging, was described in a recent paper:
“The ‘21st century microscope’ will not be a single instrument; rather it will be an orchestration of specialised imaging technologies, data storage facilities, and specialised data processing engines. Moreover, scientists increasingly require access to a wide range of imaging instruments, across multiple modalities and multiple scales, to characterise a scientific sample or perform an experiment.”
Underpinning all of this is data. Data needs to be captured from the instrument or source, stored securely, made available for and connected to tools for collaboration and analysis, and then shared to support results and enable new research. Ideally this occurs in a seamless and integrated fashion so that researchers can focus on their research, not on the technology.
Taking on the data challenge
NCRIS funding has allowed Monash University to tackle these challenges in key areas. The RDSI funded VicNode has provided the university with new and improved data storage, and connected it to research colleagues across the country.
ANDS funded projects have improved understanding of researcher needs and allowed the building of tools such as myTardis that connect them to that storage, to create collaborative environments. And the Characterisation Virtual Laboratory (CVL) uses Nectar cloud services to provide access to imaging tools and data for researchers across the country.
Finally, ANDS funding for projects like the Major Open Data Collections has allowed Monash imaging data to become publicly available, thus promoting and enhancing research.
In all these circumstances Monash University continues to work towards the biggest challenge, which is to bring these tools and services together into a seamless whole. Part of the beauty of the traditional microscope is that it combines all its components – lenses, light source, focus, eyepiece – together into a single unit. This integration is the result of many centuries of experiments and refinements.
With NCRIS assistance, Monash University is well into the process of doing the same for the 21st century microscope, bringing together the parts, refining and improving them, and working to make research easier and able to answer new questions, thereby allowing researchers to see more than they ever have before.