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Teamwork and innovation brings success at Curtin University

Curtin project team

The Curtin Mineral Major Open Data Collection team (l-r: Adam Brown (Software Engineer), Salim Twalib (Business Analyst), Deborah Terry AO (Vice Chancellor), Matthias Liffers (Project Leader), Colin Meikle (Data Librarian), Elizabeth Manassah (Data Librarian)). Photo courtesy of Curtin University.

In November 2015, the Curtin Digital Mineral Major Open Data Collection (MODC) team was awarded the Vice-Chancellor's Excellence Award for Innovation. It is a well deserved recognition for a flagship open data project – and also comes with $20,000 in prize money to be spent on personal development.

Working in collaboration with the Geological Survey of Western Australia – and supported by ANDS – the project has transformed geochemical samples into digital datasets available to researchers around the world.

Along the way, it developed new ways of handling and storing metadata, introducing International Geo Sample Numbers (IGSNs) and QR codes to help catalogue its mineral samples.

It is a project heavily reliant on modern technology. But the real success of the project is down to something far more old-fashioned: great teamwork.

Share asked project members about winning the award  and what role teamwork played in their success…

Adam Brown, John de Laeter Centre Software Engineer

"As a software engineer I was responsible for designing and building a software solution to help researchers capture, store and share high-value research data.

Our project required collaboration from a diverse group of Curtin University staff, including specialists from the John de Laeter Centre, Curtin Information Technology Services and Curtin University Library. All members of the team contributed their particular expertise to the project and enabled its  success. The project wouldn't have been as successful – or happened at all – without the utilisation of such a broad range of skills.

It was a great feeling to receive the Vice Chancellor's award. To me, it demonstrated that the University recognised the value in the work we had done and attests to the importance of making research data readily available."

Colin Meikle, Data Librarian

"The teamwork within Curtin was definitely key to the success of this project. The data from the mineral samples and much of the metadata was generated by Adam.

The dataset storage was arranged by Salim, with the final touches of generating Digital Object Identifiers, citations, as well as publishing to Research Data Australia, performed by myself and Elizabeth Manassah (another metadata librarian in the Curtin Library).

Given that seven teams were nominated for this award I was very surprised that our team was chosen as the winners. It was great to see our project video shown in front of a packed lecture room of university staff."

Matthias Liffers, Project Leader

"I was the Project Leader, which meant it was up to me to do anything to keep the project running on time.    When I found out we'd won the award I said something that probably can't appear in print. It was a very strong field and I honestly thought we had no hope against the other contenders.

Our team was diverse and encompassed a wide range of expertise, from workflow design through to creating high quality metadata. None of us were shrinking violets – we all voiced our opinion on how we could best resolve problems. Surprisingly, there was no conflict at all! I'm still not sure how  we managed that.

I'm still weighing up my options for further professional development, but I'd love to go on a study tour to learn how other universities are successfully managing their research data."

Salim Twalib, Business Analyst

"Our project had the right mix of personnel, both at the steering committee and project committee levels, from various university areas.

The project members were open, collaborative and hard-working. With clear project objectives and defined timelines, the project team embarked on delivery using an agile approach that empowered everyone to complete tasks and subsequent seamlessly integrate to the overall solution. But the team's greatest strengths were specialised knowledge, willingness to learn, adaptability and collegiality.

For me, the award prize will be used to attend specialised IT training and attain related IT certifications. I will also use it to attend a relevant conference in 2016. The Award had seven excellent nominees. It was an honour to win such a fiercely competed category."

What is the Digital Mineral Library?

The Digital Mineral Library consists of 150 datasets produced by an ARC-funded TESCAN Integrated Mineral Analyser (TIMA).

The datasets have been catalogued using a linked open data approach. Each dataset has been allocated a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) and each physical sample an IGSN. Embedded QR codes facilitate easy linking between physical and digital data.

A workflow integrates a laboratory information management system with the IGSN sample registry and TIMA automated mineralogy. Zircon, monazite, titanite, rutile, apatite and many other accessory minerals are rapidly identified (up to 20,000 grains per hour) and spatially registered for subsequent microprobe analysis.