Now in its fifth year, eResearch Australasia, held 6–11 November 2011 at Melbourne’s Sebel & Citigate in Albert Park, proved once again to be a highly successful meeting place for some of the best minds in eResearch to get together, share ideas and strengthen networks. The conference attracted more than 500 delegates – representing state, national and international organisations across research and other sectors – which exceeded attendance figures for previous events.
Sponsorship levels were equally impressive, bringing on board industry, public sector organisations and eResearch service providers. The Victorian Department of Business and Innovation (DBI) was a bronze sponsor at this year’s conference, as was VeRSI.
Research data management
The main focus of the event, entitled eXtreme eResearch, was research data management, with many presentations looking at ways to access, share and manage multi-disciplinary and distributed data sources. The conference provided an excellent forum for exchanging information on real experiences and lessons learned about the practical aspects of managing, curating and dealing with data, rather than just a conceptual approach. There are still issues to be addressed, but members of the community seemed united in their commitment to finding common ground and resolving them together.
There were many compelling presentations:
The opening plenary, by Bryan Heidorn of the University of Arizona, covered the issues that are still at the heart of the research data management challenges faced by many eResearch practitioners. One such challenge is dealing with the so-called ‘long-tail’ of data: how we can appropriately gather, organise and preserve the ‘tail end’ research data that sits on researchers’ thumb drives or CDs, or is held in a spreadsheet or other local format. Bryan provided useful examples to illustrate this problem.
Another notable plenary talk was given by Peter Fox of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He focused on data visualisation and drew out the phrase ‘abductive reasoning’, coined by Charles Sanders Pierce of Semiotics fame. Fox challenged the old paradigm that from data we can move to the next level of information and then to knowledge. He argued that there is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing across the three levels. He also provided several interesting links from which one can further explore his thoughts and the brave new world of ‘Web 6.0’.
The final plenary of the conference, Riding the Wave: Paradigm Shifts in Information Access, was headlined by Jan Brase of Datacite.
Jan brought much of the discussion on research data management and its potential impact on research full circle, with a dynamic talk on the possibilities of linking research data to library records and to publication – and all of this in a very accessible way to the researcher and the public. Jan also provided some future-gazing on new ways of searching for information that are around the corner of possibility, such as visual searching and 3D sketching as a means of locating related datasets.
Complementing the headline plenaries, there were numerous excellent presentations from across the eResearch practitioner community, including information on national developments and projects. For instance, The Australian eResearch Infrastructure to 2012 and Beyond forum provided an opportunity to review the major challenges on a national basis, right down to the grassroots issue of what is needed within a rapidly changing landscape. Rhys Francis (AERIC Director) presented a clear visualisation and overview of what eResearch infrastructure comprises and what it can involve. Significant questions were raised at the end of this session, echoing some of Bryan Heidorn’s earlier discourse on how to ensure that the tail end of research data is not overlooked within funding cycles.
Birds of a feather
The eResearch poster and birds of a feather (BOFs) sessions supported a range of presentations from the community and, importantly, provided a means for interacting with colleagues across Australia and overseas. BOFs covered topical discussion areas that fit very well with the overarching thrust of the conference to facilitate the sharing of experiences and best practice. These included How to Hit the Ground Running in eResearch, Australian National Data Service (ANDS) projects, Dark Data and the Long Tail, eResearch State Agencies, Epic Fails in eResearch and User-facing Data Services and Capability-building, among others. Practitioners with disciplinary focus and interest areas were also able to come together in BoF sessions, including Humanities and Creative Arts eResearch, and Harmonizing Spatial Data Dervices.
Dev8D AU 'unconference'
The day of the conference reception also saw the inaugural Dev8D AU 'unconference', an offshoot of the JISC-led Dev8D. The workshop, co-organised by Monash eResearch Centre (Steve Androulakis) and VeRSI (Jared Winton), was a free event designed to encourage developers and software engineers to come together, exchange ideas and network. Paul Walk, deputy director of UKOLN in the UK and one of the DeV8D creators, participated in the workshop and assisted in its realisation.
VeRSI was proud to assist international colleagues to attend eResearch Australasia: Paul Walk (Deputy Director of UKOLN), whose talk was entitled Developer Community Supporting Innovation (DevCSI), and Ian Dolphin (CEO of SAKAI), who presented with Paul Walk on Software, Community and Sustainability in the sponsor stream. VeRSI further supported the workshop, Exploiting VIVO for eResearch Activities, organised by Simon Porter (University of Melbourne), assisted by David Cliff (University of Melbourne) and Jared Winton (VeRSI).
Victorian representation of eResearch organisations at the conference in general and in the exhibition areas was very strong overall, with individual exhibition booths from VPAC, Monash eResearch Centre , the University of Melbourne, Melbourne eResearch Group , Swinburne University and the Victorian Life Sciences Computation Initiative .
Chris Myers presents Steven Manos with his Xbox Kinect bundle, first prize in the VeRSI competition
Similarly, eResearch projects arising from Victorian research collaborations had a strong presence on the platform. VeRSI-supported projects were represented in several presentations, including those on research data infrastructures, emerging communities (such as digital humanities), remote access, and training and education.
The VeRSI and collocated DBI booth generated additional interest, showcasing several partner eResearch projects, including metadata management demonstrators, HD3D technologies used for telehealth projects and the Australian Synchrotron virtual beamline. VeRSI hosted a live 3D video conference link with the University of Melbourne booth and a continuously running demo of a robot turret with a Xbox Kinect, utilising skeletal tracking to move a robot turret with mounted Nerf canon. The VeRSI prize draw was also popular, and saw Steven Manos (University of Melbourne) win first prize of an Xbox Kinect bundle.
Michael D’Silva presents The ‘Imax’ of science labs: the next generation of eResearch, at eResearch Australia
Needless to say, the eResearch community will soon be gearing up for the 2012 eResearch Australasia Conference. Details to be announced in the eResearch newsletter (for subscription information contact: newsletter@eResearch.edu.au).