Published: Oct. 3, 2022

Imagine being an atmospheric researcher who uses an aircraft equipped with scientific instruments that are designed for measuring the lowest level of the atmosphere. Other researchers also use this aircraft to gather data that can be used in scientific studies. 

Everyone utilizing this airplane needs to know what data the instruments on their airplane collect and where the data is used in order to justify the value of the airplane to whoever is funding that research collection and for other interested researchers to be able to replicate the data collection process. 

To be able to do any of this, there need to be technical and social systems in place that allow everyone to identify and cite data from this airplane, as well as the airplane itself and the instruments it carries, in a consistent way within and across different scientific communities. 

These are exactly the types of systems Andrew Johnson, interim director of the Center for Research Data & Digital Scholarship is trying to create. The University of Colorado Boulder and the Center for Research Data & Digital Scholarship (CRDDS) have received a prestigious grant award from the US National Science Foundation to work on the standardization and adoption of open science practices related to facilities and instruments used for research.

This multi-year research project aspires to establish community-informed recommendations on how to assign persistent identifiers like Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) and Research Resource Identifiers (RRIDs) to research facilities and instrumentation. CU Boulder is also working with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and Florida State University on the project to strengthen coordination among researchers in order to advance FAIR data principles and open science practices. 

The “Findable Accessible Interoperable Reusable (FAIR) Open Science Facilities and Instruments project is one of 10 projects funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) as part of its Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable, Open Science Research Coordination Networks (FAIROS RCN) program. FAIR is a set of international principles that focus on making scientific research more open and transparent.

Johnson said these projects are part of a nationwide attempt to establish norms and best practices to strengthen coordination among researchers to advance fair data principles and open science practices. 

“Many of the projects are about reproducibility,” Andrew Johnson, interim director of CRDDS said. “How do other researchers ensure that their findings are reliable and they can reproduce them themselves? In order to do that, you have to have a lot of information—the methods, and techniques used to generate data and to analyze the data. All pieces of the puzzle need to be openly available to do that. Our project is looking specifically at the role of instruments and facilities in this web of interrelated things to make open research reproducible and of the broadest value.” 

In August, the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) issued new guidance for federal agencies to remove the current 12-month embargo period for access to research outputs including articles and data. Federal agencies have until 2026 to comply with the change. Johnson said it’s important for these processes to be standardized by the greater research community in order for the public to trust the process. 

“As research becomes more open, there’s more and more opportunity for a wider audience to come across this type of research,” Johnson said. “The transparency piece is a big part of that. So the entire record needs to be out there and be open in order to build the trust that was always supposed to exist in science.” 

Lead principal investigator for the FAIR Facilities and Instruments research coordination network Matthew Mayernik said that the project brings visibility to oftentimes overlooked but essential facilities and instruments to the advancement of science. 

“People may not know such facilities exist, what their capabilities are, or what their outcomes have been,” Mayernik said. “Our project will gather community expertise on how persistent identifiers can be used to increase transparency of science by enhancing the discoverability of existing instruments, equipment, and their resulting data. The project is intended to make it easier to manage the relationships that exist between instruments, the data they produce, and the people who use these instruments. Managing such relationships is a central requirement for current information systems.” 

Dean of Libraries and Senior Vice Provost of Online Education Robert H. McDonald said the FAIROS grant is but another example of how academic libraries can work as key data curation partners with our researchers who are on the cutting edge of scientific research and discovery. 

“This work demonstrated how the University Libraries and CRDDS play an instrumental role in open science,” McDonald said. “We look forward to seeing the impact these contributions have both on a local and national scale.”