Research Tools – latest projects

From August 2012 JISC funded a further set of Research Tools projects as part of the 01/12 Digital Infrastructure Call. This call included four strands:

  1. Emerging Research Tools – Emergent and novel hardware and software tools and techniques, particularly projects which will identify future trends and disruptive technologies.
  2. Facilitating Research Communications – Advanced tools facilitating communications during the research process, for example within research communities, between research peers, engagement with wider audiences such as the general public.
  3. Develop Sustainable and Open Vocabularies for Research and Information Management – Projects to build upon existing vocabularies that support academic disciplines, to develop exemplars demonstrating the support of the semantics of a discipline.
  4. Synthesis Project Focused on Sustainable and Open Vocabularies for Research and Information Management – A project to synthesise lessons from the enhancement of research vocabularies, and ensure that those lessons and best practice are made available to guide others in similar endeavours.

Although the response to this call was encouraging, we were only able to fund a limited number of projects within the first 3 strands. Unfortunately, no project was funded under the fourth strand. Most of these projects started in August 2012 and will run until mid-2013. This post gives a summary of each project.

Emerging Research Tools

Bat Mobile – University of Bristol

Bats are important biodiversity indicator species that help us to keep track of the health of our environment, but researching their distributions and the status of their populations is scientifically challenging. Current bat detecting equipment is expensive and methods for call identification require specialist knowledge, are time-consuming and often subjective. They propose to develop an innovative smartphone application which will solve many of these problems. Coupled with the GPS signal from the smartphone, this will provide researchers with much needed accurate information about species distributions that can feed into national research programmes and inform conservation policy.

(JISC WebpageProject blog)

Kinecting up the Past – Sheffield University

This project will explore the research benefits, use, and disruptive nature of cheap consumer-grade technology to capture environments and artefacts in 3-dimensions using Microsoft’s Kinect controller. Although the application has a much wider application, the project will focus on the real needs within archaeology, thus serving as a test-bed for the research to be undertaken. Ultimately the aim is to make the Kinect device as simple to use as a digital camera, but to capture 3-dimensional objects and environments. This will be evaluated for accuracy across research, dissemination, public engagement and preservation activities (each requiring different levels of detail). If successful, this project will pose a significant disruptive influence on the existing use of technology to capture 3D objects and environments, making it much more accessible, easy to use, and cheaper to undertake for those without specific skill sets.

(JISC WebpageProject blog)

COSMOS: Supporting Empirical Social Scientific Research with a VRE – Cardiff University

An earlier ESRC grant has supported the schools of Social Sciences (SOCSI) and Computer Science & Informatics (COMSCI) at Cardiff University in developing the Cardiff Online Social Media Observatory (COSMOS) – an information collection, archival and analysis engine for harvesting freely available socially significant data from sources such as social networking sites, blogs, micro-blogs, RSS feeds and Open Data (e.g. crime rates), and analyzing the harvested dataset to detect community tension and cohesion indicators. They propose to enhance COSMOS and engage the wider social scientific research community by extending it to provide an innovative VRE. They have developed the social data harvesting engine and a rule engine to detect social tension within the aggregated dataset, but now need to build on this with usable and adaptable user interfaces that allow the composition and orchestration of research processes that produce empirical results to research questions. Researchers need to be able to use COSMOS data and pose hypothetical “what-if” questions, trying different combinations of social data analysis methods to confirm or refute an informal hypothesis, and then stress testing it further until a coherent and arguable position emerges. They plan to include sentiment, tension, network and geospatial data analysis functionality in the COSMOS platform during the project.

(JISC WebpageProject blog)

Twitter Analysis Workbench development – University of Manchester

The JISC funded analysing social media project is developing innovative methodologies for social media analysis, combining powerful, cloud-based computational search and NLP tools to explore and structure large volumes of data, with more established methods for media analysis. This project will develop the existing Twitter analysis workbench, integrating a range of new tools and migrating it to a fully cloud-based infrastructureThe workbench will be made freely available to researchers, who will be able to host it in an IaaS cloud such as Amazon’s EC2 or the Eduserv cloud. They will provide the workbench as a SaaS service based on the St Andrews StACC cloud over the project lifetime. They are working in close collaboration with the Cardiff Online Social Media Observatory (COSMOS) project.

(JISC WebpageProject blog)

Facilitating Research Communications

COMTAX: A Community-driven Curation Process for Taxonomic Databases – Open University

This project aims to develop and establish a community-driven curation process among practising taxonomists. The process will employ Scratchpads, a social networking framework already used by many biodiversity scientists. The project will combine recommending new texts to users with an online verification process in order to engage the biodiversity community in collaborative taxonomic database curation. Potential taxonomic names with associated contextual information will be automatically extracted from the legacy biodiversity literature and will be presented to a range of taxonomic curators. Multiple human judgements will be collected for taxonomic name validation. The project deliverables will facilitate and improve the curation process by developing an automated tool to exploit the historic legacy of scientific literature and provide a Scratchpad-based web service to allow biodiversity researchers to work collaboratively as a team.

(JISC Webpage, Project blog)


A shared open vocabulary for audio research and retrieval (SOVARR) – Queen Mary, London

This project aims to investigate the benefits of using sustainable and shared vocabularies in audio research communities, what are the primary needs of researchers, and what are the main barriers to the uptake of shared vocabularies. The goal is to analyse user needs by directly engaging with audio research communities and investigate the extent to which a common agreement on feature representation can be reached. They will update the existing Audio Features Ontology based on feedback from the research communities, as well as performing a thorough review of the literature and existing vocabularies. Subsequently, the new ontology can be incorporated into existing research tools (Sonic Annotator, SAWA and Sonic Visualiser). Finally, they will develop and deliver workshops and tutorials to explain the benefits of using a shared open vocabulary, provide recommendations for creating and publishing research data using the ontology, and demonstrate existing research tools that utilise the ontology.

(JISC WebpageProject blog)

EnviLOD – British Library

The overall aim of EnviLOD is to demonstrate the value of using Linked Open Data (LOD) vocabularies in the field of environmental science. Firstly, EnviLOD will tackle the problem of LOD domain vocabulary enrichment and interlinking. Tools for efficient LOD vocabulary lookup and LOD-based term disambiguation will be developed and evaluated, both quantitatively and with users. Secondly, EnviLOD will develop and evaluate intuitive user interface methods that can hide the complexities of the SPARQL semantic search language, while allowing environmental researchers to search successfully, using LOD vocabularies. A new British Library information discovery tool for environmental science, Envia, will be used as a case study to test the use of LOD vocabularies towards enhancing information discovery and management. Environmental consultants at HR Wallingford will collaborate as domain experts, providing feedback on how the semantic work undertaken here supports their work as environmental science practitioners and innovators.

(JISC WebpageProject blog)

SKOS-HASSET – UK Data Archive, University of Essex

This project will apply the Simple Knowledge Organization System (SKOS) to the Humanities and Social Science Electronic Thesaurus (HASSET), and test its automatic indexing properties. Its aims are threefold: firstly, it will apply SKOS to HASSET, thus creating SKOS-HASSET; secondly, it will test SKOS-HASSET’s automatic indexing capabilities in relation to survey data resources; thirdly, it will improve the Archive’s thesaurus online presence, by enhancing the existing management interface, the user-facing pages and all the Archive’s underlying thesaurus database tables and structure. It will provide not only a SKOS-enabled product for use within the social science information and research communities, but also advice and recommendations on how the terms within this product can be applied automatically to text.

(JISC WebpageProject blog)

For more information about any of these projects please see their JISC webpages or, to follow their progress, check out their blogs.

The Magnificent Seven

At the end of 2011 JISC released the 16/11 Digital Infrastructure Call, which included a Research Tools strand. The aim of this strand was to fund 5 to 10 projects that would look at “exploiting technologies and infrastructure in the research process as well as innovating and extending the boundaries to determine the future demands of research on infrastructures.”

This was the first call of the Research Tools strand of the new Research Programme. We were pleased by the response to this call and were able to fund 7 projects. All these projects started in, or soon after, February 2012 and run until July/August. The following is a summary of each of these projects:


The Chemistry department at Cambridge has used Electronic Lab Notebooks (ELN) for a number of years. Although the adoption of ELNs in academia would bring many benefits, including better accessibility of data and improved efficiency, the uptake of ELNs has been disappointing. The eventual aim of the CamELS (or CamELN) project is to facilitate universal adoption of ELNs in academia. Within the timeframe of this funding, the project will pilot a software-as-a-service (SaaS) approach by having research chemists in Southampton use the Cambridge-based ELN to record their experiments.  The project will thus explore issues such as training, support, functionality and application integration for ELN users based on different sites thus informing a potential future scenario where a centrally housed ELN (commercial or open-source) is provided as a resource to academia.

(JISC web page, Project blog)

e-Health GATEway to the Clouds

This project will establish a cloud-based research platform (VRE) on the White Rose Grid to support e-health records research. It will address the identity management challenge of shared access by researchers to the text within e-Health patient records which, if left in its original form, may identify patients and their clinicians, carers and family members. The project will create a new software plug-in for the open source GATE natural language processing (NLP) system which will help pseudonymise free format text such that it can be safely used by researchers following best practice in ethics and information governance.

(JISC web page, Project blog)


Extensive evidence gathered by the Institute of Historical Research (IHR) since 2002 suggests that take-up of online research tools amongst historians still remains limited and low, mainly because of a lack of awareness. The objective of this project is to empower history researchers to request tools for their institutional VREs, and to embed online tools more generally within historical research, by providing them with the knowledge they need to assess the requirements of their own projects. There are three aspects to the project: 1) a tools audit (by example of existing projects), 2) case studies (one per tool), and 3) produce free training modules (two tools demonstrated).

(JISC web page, Project blog)

Increasing Interoperability between Corpus Tools

This project will explore the potential for interoperability between different corpus query tools, report on possible approaches to this, demonstrate a prototype linking the WordTree, Intellitext, CQPweb and Wmatrix, and disseminate findings widely across the various research communities concerned with texts and language use, so that researchers are encouraged to try research methods which are established in other disciplinary communities, but are not yet familiar in their own.

(JISC web page, Project blog)


This project will utilise a number of aspects of digital infrastructure, particularly semantic data and data visualisation techniques, to help support and develop a particular EPSRC funded research community – SPIRES (Supporting People Who Investigate Research Environments and Spaces). The aim is to both help strengthen the network and its existing membership and to extend and develop it, particularly using the connections of its members within institutions and projects they are part of to find new research themes and potential areas for new collaborations. The technologies used for the project are based on those developed as part of the VRE3 Brain project at Coventry University, work carried out by the VRE3 Cancer Imaging VRE project and the Institutional Innovation BRII project at Oxford University and from several projects at Warwick University.

(JISC web page, Project blog)


The Systematic Literature Review (SLR) is an increasingly important research tool for extracting new knowledge from existing research data. The SLR process originated from the medical field but is now common across many disciplines, including social sciences and computer science. However, the process is very resource intensive. It is essential that the SLR process can be easily validated and repeated if necessary, if research outputs from it are to carry an appropriate level of confidence. This project aims to define a method for SLR and a tool to support this method.

(JISC web page, Project blog)


This project will produce an open source platform that helps researchers and students to collaborate around and work with collections of digitised public domain texts. It will enable users to search for, read and download public domain texts and allow them to annotate, transcribe and share these texts on an integrated online platform. An initial deployment will be made for the philosophy research community on The platform will be developed with input from staff and students drawn from a number of British universities who will be using the tool in their research and teaching.

(JISC web page, Project blog)

Details of each project’s deliverables will be available post-August, so please contact us or check this blog, or the JISC website, for updates.

Four Research Tools strands in latest Digital Infrastructure funding call

On 31 January JISC released its latest funding call from the Digital Infrastructure team – JISC Grant Funding 01/12: Digital Infrastructure Programme. While there are many interesting strands within this call related to different programmes, this post provides details on the Research Tools elements (Appendix B in the call document).

The deadline for submissions is 12:00 on 16 March 2012. Please check the eligibility criteria within the call document before applying.

JISC has recently released guidelines on how to make your bid stand out from the crowd. I would strongly recommend reading this before writing a proposal, especially if you are new to bidding for JISC funding or have previously been unsuccessful with a proposal.

The Research Programme is relatively new and is made up of the strands Research Tools and Research Support. The programme incorporates work previously undertaken by the Virtual Research Environment (VRE) and Research infrastructures programmes

There are 4 Research Tools strands in this call and are in Appendices B1 to B4. Please ensure the general overview in Appendix B is read as well as this contains important background information. The strands are as follows:

1) Emerging research tools (Appendix B1)

Funding Available
A total of £400,000 is available to fund 3-5 projects of between £75,000 and £160,000 per project from June 2012 till March 2013.

This strand is looking for projects exemplifying the use and development of research tools in the area of emergent and novel hardware and software tools and techniques; particularly projects which will identify future trends and disruptive technologies. Through this work, projects will help the sector to identify the potential of these tools, develop exemplars and provide guidance on how they can be successfully implemented in research processes.

2) Facilitating research communications (Appendix B2)

Funding Available
A total of £200,000 is available to fund up to 3 projects of up to £100,000 each from June 2012 till March 2013.

This strand is funding projects exemplifying the use and development of tools facilitating communications during the research process, for example within research communities, between research peers, engagement with wider audiences such as the general public. Several projects, funded under the VRE programme, supported research communication (details are in the call document). Projects funded under this strand should look at how to facilitate communication during the research process and not just after research has been completed.

3) Vocabularies – Development (Appendix B3)

Funding Available
A total of £300,000 is available to fund up to 5 projects of up to £70,000 each from June 2012 till January 2013.

Thesauri (vocabularies) have always been key to knowledge organisation, but there is an opportunity to further develop key thesauri in more open, re-useable and sustainable ways. Subject specific projects are sought which would build upon existing vocabularies that support academic disciplines (including, but not limited to, astronomy, physics, chemistry, the social sciences) to develop exemplars demonstrating the support of the semantics of a discipline across many different information types (data, text, etc.) and also across the different aspects of the research lifecycle. Projects should not develop new vocabularies, but should identify the drivers, enablers and barriers to the enhancement and curation of disciplinary vocabularies.

4) Vocabularies – Synthesis (Appendix B4)

Funding Available
A total of £50,000 is available to fund 1 project from June 2012 till March 2013.

To accompany and support the activities described in Appendix B3, above, a single synthesis activity is also sought that would engage with the projects (and other related activities) to ensure that lessons and best practice could be made available to guide others in similar endeavours.

Further Information

If you have any questions related to the above strands, or general enquiries about bidding, please contact Torsten Reimer or Christopher Brown.


Welcome to the Research Programme blog. This programme is managed by the Digital Infrastructure team (part of the Innovation Group) within JISC, in particularly the two Programme Managers Christopher Brown and Torsten Reimer.  Further information about the programme is available at The programme is made up of two strands: Research Tools and Research Support, which incorporates work previously undertaken by the Virtual research environment (VRE) and Research infrastructures programmes

This blog will provide information on the programme, for example calls for projects, plans, events, etc. It also serves as a forum where questions, particularly related to calls, can be asked of the Digital Infrastructure team, and also for discussion.