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OSTIblog Articles in the Personal Perspectives Topic

The Importance of Cross-fertilization of Ideas

Being someone who really loves mathematics I enjoy reading about the lives of mathematicians, about how they think, and about how they solve problems. And, as an OSTI consultant I recognize the value of having access to the ideas of others when performing research. As I read stories of the brilliant mathematicians, especially ones like Gauss, Fermat, and Pythagoras who lived hundreds of years ago, I wonder how much more they might have accomplished if each had access to all of the important works of all of his or her predecessors and contemporaries, not only in his or her specialized fields but in all of the natural sciences. The cross-fertilization of ideas, the unexpected connections between seemingly disjoint fields of science, that is critical to advancing science. Through a number of powerful products and services OSTI provides a tremendous foundation for this cross-fertilization.

I recently read "The Music of the Primes," by Marcus du Sautoy. The book tells a very fascinating story about the search for patterns among prime numbers. It turns out that this search is not just driven by intellectual curiosity. Important results that affect our lives are derived from our understanding of prime numbers. Alan Turing's success in cracking the German Enigma machine and the security of our electronic financial transactions come directly from our understanding of the primes. Error detecting and error correcting technology, so critical to modern electronic communication systems, owes its existence to the primes as well. Casting a wide net is critical to making those unexpected connections and to advancing science., the global gateway to science conceived at OSTI, accesses scientific and technical information from countries that include 73% of the world's population.

Du Sautoy's book chronicles the heroic efforts of...

Related Topics: federated search


Transparency in Government and Transformative Science

Jeffrey Salmon


I recently had the opportunity to speak with members of DOE's Scientific and Technical Information Program (STIP) at their annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. This is a collaboration that works and is critical to OSTI's success. It is supported by a DOE Order, but there is no compulsion in the order. This is an "order" only insofar as it sets out an expectation that the National Labs will share their R&D output, in whatever form, with OSTI for its free and open distribution. There are no penalties attached to failing to meet this expectation. None are needed. The system works smoothly. The Order does make the point that spreading scientific knowledge is important; it announces an important intention and frames how that intention is to be carried out. And the whole process is working well.

This practice of making R&D results as freely available as possible has roots extending back long before there was a Department of Energy and indeed before there was an Atomic Energy Commission. The historic grounding for STIP and for OSTI is worth thinking about as we consider what transparent science might mean today.

Near the end of the Second World War - November 17, 1944, to be exact - President Roosevelt asked Vannevar Bush, then the Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, to apply the experience of our R&D war efforts - most of which was done in utter secrecy - to the "days of peace ahead". Roosevelt asked for guidance on four major points. Let me share with you the very first issue he addressed to Bush.

"First: What can...

Related Topics: Scientific and Technical Information Program Website, stip, transformative science


Dr. Warnick Speaks at Computers In Libraries Annual Conference

Dr. Walt Warnick


Dr. Walt Warnick, Director of OSTI, recently had the honor of speaking at two events at the Computers In Libraries Conference. I asked Dr. Warnick to share some of his experience and perceptions from the talks through a short interview:

Dr. Warnick, you travel quite a bit and make numerous presentations about OSTI's innovative work. What drew you to speak at the Computers In Libraries (CIL) Conference?

I was invited to make two presentations which you describe below in your third question. I have visited the Conference in previous years, but this is the first time that I made presentations. Computers In Libraries is a natural forum for OSTI, as everything we do today is computer based and librarians are very important customers.

Congratulations! How would you categorize the attendees at CIL? Were they mostly librarians?

My impression is that most CIL attendees were librarians. Sprinkled among them were computer techies. For example, the moderator at my first session was a highly accomplished computer techie from the San Francisco Chronicle.

You had the distinction of co-leading two sessions at the conference, one on information dissemination, the other on the future of federated search as you see it. Let's start with the first. What was the gist of your message on how OSTI is spreading knowledge and advancing science?


Related Topics: Computers in Libraries, federated search, Walter Warnick


OSTI's Efforts Advance Energy Secretary Goals

Energy Secretary Steven Chu aims to better integrate basic and applied sciences.[1] OSTI's mission [2], products, and services support this goal. Secretary Chu sees the need to build networks to connect research within national labs, universities, and industry. A number of OSTI's research offerings directly facilitate open communication. Secretary Chu seeks to expand international science collaboration., conceived at OSTI, promotes such collaboration. Secretary Chu wants to link research with solutions to our nation's pressing problems. OSTI, through the DOE SBIR program, encourages small businesses to develop and commercialize technologies that advance the acceleration of science. Secretary Chu values development of engineering talent. OSTI is developing technology that will improve science education.

As Walt Warnick explained in a previous article, "Science Depends on the Diffusion of Knowledge," [2] the fabric of science is constructed from the billions of knowledge transactions that transpire every year. Science advances to the extent that we can increase the number of such transactions and their contact rate with scientists new to particular transactions. Secretary Chu's goal is identical to OSTI's: connect researchers regardless of the type of facility -- national lab, academic, or commercial -- anywhere in the world. serves as a global gateway to science. is built upon a foundation of global government and government-approved scientific databases that are mined through federated search technology. This technology, advanced by OSTI, penetrates the deep Web, where this high quality content resides, and makes global discovery, the diffusion of important science ideas, possible, practical, and...

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Growing Up With Federated Search

[Note: This article first appeared in the Federated Search Blog. ]

This is the story of how one organization of the Federal government came to recognize the potential of federated search and then set out to deploy it and encourage its maturation.

Along the way, considerable progress has been made. More science is freely findable on the web today than has ever before been available to the public. Yet, much more progress remains to be made.

Before the Web

Before the web, the Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI) of the Department of Energy used the technology then available to maximize communication about the results of the Department's research and development program. For example, OSTI created microfiche and sent it to hundreds of depository libraries. It also partnered with on-line vendors like Dialog. Hard copies were made available via a partnership with the National Technical Information Service.

Enter the Web

With the advent of the web, it quickly became clear that the new medium offered tremendous potential to communicate science. Thus, OSTI set out to develop cutting-edge web tools to share e-prints, technical reports, conference proceedings, and other forms of scientific and technical information (STI). Because each form of STI comes from a distinct source, each form follows a distinct pathway which needed to be accommodated, which naturally led to a separate information product for each form.

The Need to Integrate Web Applications

Within a couple years, OSTI had developed a suite of web based databases and was also linking to similar databases offered by other agencies. It was apparent...

Related Topics: federated search


On Credibility of Search Results

On March 2nd I wrote an article for the Federated Search Blog: On credibility  of search results.

The article asserts that a federated search engine is only as good as the quality of the content to which it provides access. While the major consumer-oriented search engines may provide more search results overall, it is left to the user of the search application to sift through the search results to identify which content represents credible scientific and technical information.

OSTI doesn't suffer from this quality issue. As stewards for DOE research output, OSTI only disseminates the most credible information. Below are just a few examples of OSTI's commitment to providing only vetted quality information via its federated search applications. provides access to only credible information via federated search; empowers researchers and the science attentive citizen to search important information resources of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) scientific and technical information.

Beyond DOE, delivers 200 million pages of authoritative U.S. government science information from 14 federal agencies that participate in the Alliance.

At the global level, serves as a worldwide science portal to the most credible information from international government agencies and from organizations sanctioned by their governments.

As OSTI grows and the scientific and technical information we provide expands, the quality of information we provide will always remain high.

Sol Lederman
OSTI Consultant

Related Topics:, Science Accelerator, (WWS), federated search


Science Depends on the Diffusion of Knowledge

As Isaac Newton said, "If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Newton was not alone on those shoulders. Everyone in science, from his day to ours, draws on the work of others.

Science is all about the flow of knowledge: New methods, instruments, techniques, concepts, results, questions, data, etc.  The flows are endless, complex and in all directions.  It is rightly called a diffusion process.  This concept is reflected in a host of statutes that form the legislative basis for OSTI.

Often the Knowledge Scientists Need Resides in Distant Communities

Nor do we depend just on the work of giants. We also depend on our colleagues down the hall, or at another lab, as well as a myriad of other researchers we do not know.

According to the National Science Foundation, there are over 2.5 million research workers worldwide, with more than 1.2 million in the U.S. alone.1 If we look at all the articles, reports, emails and conversations that pass between them, we could count billions of knowledge transactions every year. This incredible diffusion of knowledge is the very fabric of science.

Given that the diffusion of knowledge is central to science, it behooves us to see if we can accelerate it.  We note that diffusion takes time. Sometimes it takes a long time. Every diffusion process has a speed. Our thesis is that speeding up diffusion will accelerate the advancement of science.


Related Topics: deep web, diffusion of knowledge, isaac newton, nsf


Accelerate Science. Live Better. OSTI

Two hundred years ago the gulf between the rich and the common people was huge, illustrated by these photos.  On the left is Doughoregan Manor at Ellicott City, Maryland, largely built in the 1700's, home of Charles Carroll of Carrolton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  On the right is the cabin where Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809 located at Hodgenville, Kentucky.  Today, the public view of these times is influenced by the fact that many of the fabulous mansions yet survive, while the cabins that housed common people have long since been replaced.

Sources: Wikipedia articles "Abraham Lincoln" and "Doughoregan Manor".

The immediate goal of science is understanding, rather than social utility.  In the rush of day-to-day activity it is easy to overlook how science allows us to live better. The path from science to better lives is complex and often takes decades.  In broad terms, basic research first hands off its results to applied research.  Applied research then hands off to technology research and development, which then flows into entrepreneurship and finally manufacturing and distribution.  Then, and only then, are great benefits realized from science knowledge.

The role of science in improving lives can best be appreciated by examining changes over time.   Many of the older people today can recall times that seem to be the distant past, when the material comforts of life were fewer.  But what is seldom appreciated is the degree to which technological progress had by then already revolutionized and improved the lives of everyday people.  Consider the circumstances of an American household of the...

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The Amazingly Egalitarian Impact of OSTI's Work

Compared to the pre-Web world of the early 1990s, OSTI now enables about a thousand-fold more information transactions. An information transaction occurs when the customer receives information he requested, such as delivering the results of a search or following a link clicked to display a document. But the mind-boggling growth in the number of transactions is only part of the story.

Today's information transactions often deliver full-text to the OSTI customer, as opposed to bibliographic information. A 100 page report may contain 1000 times as much information as a bibliographic entry. Thus, not only has the number of transactions mushroomed, so has the depth of knowledge conveyed by such transactions. The multiplier is a million or more.

Back in the old days, OSTI's flagship product was "Nuclear Science Abstracts," which provided abstracts of documents and journal articles together with information about where the document or article could be found.  To be of the most value, the customer had to obtain the full-text document or journal article, but the technology of that day meant that the customer was left to his own devices to obtain the full text.  Typically, only users on the premises of a large university library or other major library could access full text.  Being able to visit and use such a facility was, and remains, a privilege available to only a small number of people.

The situation today is starkly different.  Today, the typical user of an OSTI product has immediate access to full text.  No longer need the user be on the premises of a major library.  All he or she needs is internet access anywhere in the country, even around the world. This includes the researchers that DOE funds at hundreds of colleges and universities. It includes the tens of thousands of researchers who use DOE facilities, the million working researchers and tens of millions of students in America, and many more millions around the world.

Related Topics: full text, osti


Dr. Bob Marianelli: A Catalyst for Accelerating Chemical Science

OSTI is founded on the principle that science advances only if knowledge is shared. The OSTI Corollary takes this concept to a new level. It holds that accelerating the spread of knowledge accelerates the advance of science. The advance of science can also be accelerated by funding more bright scientists. In the following blog article, Dr. Bob Marianelli reminisces and gives his perspectives about advancing science throughout his remarkable career.

Dr. Marianelli led a distinguished career as a DOE Program Manager and Director of the Chemistry Division. He had the privilege to shape and manage the process by which the Department of Energy identifies bright chemists and follows their progress. Along the way, he fostered the work of many truly extraordinary scientists, including six who went on to win the Nobel Prize, perhaps the top honor a scientist can receive. In addition to fostering the work of top scientists, Dr. Marianelli played a key role in the construction of a huge facility at Pacific Northwest National Lab, and he positively influenced the direction of other major research facilities.



Love of science and learning from an early age

SL: What inspired you to pursue a science career?

BM: Well, I was very much interested in mathematics and science from my earliest recollection even before I started school. And, my siblings - my older brother and sister - encouraged me when I was very young because they could see that I was very good with numbers. Since they were six and eight years older they would give me all kinds of help and interesting challenges....

Related Topics: doe, osti