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OSTIblog Articles in the technology Topic

The Jordan Aha! Test for Visualizations

by Sharon Jordan 24 Mar, 2010 in Technology
carbon-60 Bucky Ball


It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Such is the justification and hope for visualizations.  Examples of enlightening visualizations are structural models of molecules like the carbon-60 Bucky Ball used in OSTI’s recent YouTube video.  The model shows a carbon atom at each intersection of molecular bonds. 

Another example of an enlightening visualization is Charles Joseph Minard’s famous graph showing the decreasing size of Napoleon’s army as it marches to Moscow and back with the size of the army equal to the width of the line.

Visualizations are often beautiful, but to be useful they must also convey a message.   At OSTI, we have adopted what has come to be called the Jordan Aha! Test as a metric of success for visualizations.  The concept is that a visualization is useful if the observer is informed by it so that she can exclaim “Aha!” 

Our experience at OSTI suggests that crafting a visualization that passes the Jordan Aha! Test is often surprisingly challenging.

Sharon Jordan


Related Topics: videos, visualizations, youtube, OSTI Youtube Channel


For Spreading Knowledge, the Optimum Investment Is Not the Minimum

by Dr. Walt Warnick 27 Oct, 2009 in Technology
Spreading Knowledge


An earlier article derived the Knowledge Investment Curve.

Information sharing is an integral part of the R&D process. Thus, decision makers affect the pace of scientific progress when they determine the fraction of R&D dollars dedicated to sharing knowledge. Think of it this way: A program for sharing knowledge derived from scientific research has much in common with a scientific research program itself in that they share the common goal of advancing science.  When decision makers of R&D programs discuss optimum funding for research, their decisions are driven by affordability. Similarly, there is an optimum investment in sharing research results as conceptually suggested by the Knowledge Investment Curve. And just as for research itself, the optimum investment is not the minimum.

The OSTI Corollary – If the sharing of knowledge is accelerated, discovery is accelerated – explains why we at OSTI are constantly striving to share more science with more people faster and more conveniently than ever before. 

Related Topics: information sharing, osti corollary, r&d programs


The X-Portal Vision of the Future

by Peter Lincoln 05 Oct, 2009 in Technology

As OSTI Director Walt Warnick likes to say, today's Web is like the Model T Ford -- revolutionary but ready for vast improvement. This is especially true when it comes to making the Web work for science and technology. In that spirit I want to describe a new kind of Web Portal, one which has yet to be built. It is called the X-Portal.

An X-Portal provides comprehensive coverage for a specific science or technology community, where X refers to that community. In other words, an X-Portal for biofuels is a comprehensive biofuels portal. X = Neutron Science gives a comprehensive neutron science portal, and so on. There can be as many X-Portals as there are communities, but each has a similar design.

The need for X-Portals

The need for X-Portals is based on the fact that today's search engines and portals typically provide less than 5% coverage of any given science community. Today's Web portals and search engines, while revolutionary, are technologically immature and far from comprehensive. As a result they do relatively little to overcome the cognitive barrier of findability. One can usually find something relevant, but it is seldom the best thing out there. With 5% coverage the odds are 19 to 1 against finding the best accessible content. Moreover, if the coverage extends to a large number of other communities, as with Google, even that 5% may be swamped by hits on other communities.

There are two principal reasons for these deficiencies. First of all today's portals try to be too broad, so they wind up being shallow. This means they only capture a small fragment of any given technical community. Second, because they are so broad they cannot make use of the emerging technologies of federation, semantic analysis, mapping and visualization. These new technologies require a certain amount of analytical effort that is specific to each community. When the content is too broad these technologies are prohibitively difficult to apply.


Related Topics: federated search, x-portal,, (WWS)


OSTI's Web Metrics - Partially Measuring Success

by Mark Martin 24 Sep, 2009 in Technology

OSTI creates and deploys web-based information products to accomplish its mission.  One way to measure the success of this approach is to use web metrics to gauge and analyze the usage of the information we disseminate via our web- based products.

An "information transaction" is the largest and most broadly defined web metric we track at OSTI. We define an information transaction as a discrete information exchange between an information patron and OSTI's suite of web-based information services. An information transaction occurs when our web servers deliver information to satisfy a user's request.  Requests can take a variety of forms.  Sometimes a user's request might be a search of a product such as Science Accelerator that brings back a hit list.  Following up on this information transaction, a user might click on an item in the hit list to call up a single bibliographic citation delivered via a component database of Science Accelerator such as the Information Bridge or Energy Citations Database.  Next, the user might call up the full text of a technical report.  Another type of information transaction would occur when a user requests tens, hundreds, or thousands of bibliographic citations via our OAI or MARC xml services.

In 1994, OSTI launched and hosted the first DOE web home page. From this small web presence, OSTI served 300,000 information transactions. In FY 2008, OSTI served over 84,000,000 information transactions, a 28,000% increase.

While information transactions are of great use and give us a great metric relative to information dissemination, it is useful to more...

Related Topics: marc, mission,, Information Bridge (IB), Information Bridge MARC Records, Science Accelerator


Ideas That Bind

by Moderator 10 Sep, 2009 in Technology

by David Kaiser (MIT) and Luis Bettencourt (LANL)

For some time, we and OSTI have been interested in the question of how new scientific ideas spread. What does it take for the "next big thing" to leap from one person's head to an active community of researchers? Do those shared ideas or techniques bind the community together more tightly than before, perhaps even helping to define a new research field that didn't exist before? And if so, how might we detect and measure such shifts in the space of researchers and ideas?

One interesting possibility is to study changes in the structure of collaboration networks over time. For example, imagine that Alice writes a scientific article with Bashir. Some time later, Bashir writes a different article with Carlos, while Alice writes a new paper with Dwayne. Those four authors are now connected by co-authorship links: Alice directly with Bashir and Dwayne, and--thanks to Bashir's separate article with Carlos--Alice and Carlos are connected, too. We may call that collection of nodes (authors) and links (co-authorship ties) a collaboration network.

We might expect that the pattern of change over time in these collaboration networks would vary widely with scientific field or discipline. After all, articles in theoretical physics tend to have far fewer co-authors than do articles on biomedical topics. Fields also have different average rates at which researchers write articles in any given year. And yet we have found some surprising regularities lurking beneath what otherwise appear to be rather different modes of behavior.

We have published some of these findings in a recent paper--L. Bettencourt, D. Kaiser, and J. Kaur, "Scientific discovery and topological transitions in collaboration networks," Journal of...

Related Topics: co-authorship, collaboration, information flow, networks


OSTI's Pioneering Technology Efforts

by Mark Martin 24 Jul, 2009 in Technology

A typical misconception I face when I tell people that I work within the government is that they think my job, even though it is in the technology arena, must move at a snail's pace relative to the commercial sector. This preconceived notion that our government crawls along relative to technology adoption and innovation - at least in my experience - is way off the mark.

Here at OSTI we can cite several examples where we have been on the bleeding edge of technological development. Not only have we been on the bleeding edge, in some cases we have been on that bleeding edge in cooperation with some of the largest, most innovative technology companies in the world.

For example, OSTI has been a pioneering force in federated search technology since the late 1990s. Federated search, for those of you new to the term, is the simultaneous search of multiple online databases or web resources from a single query. The Wikipedia article on federated search is an excellent resource for more information on exactly how federated search works.

Before the term "federated search" had been coined, OSTI was implementing pioneering technology that would come to be known as federated search. In April 1999, OSTI launched EnergyPortal Search, a product now encompassed in EnergyFiles.  EnergyPortal Search was the first federated search application deployed by OSTI and the first product of its kind in the government.  In December 2002, OSTI launched, the first ever search capability across major science agencies. In June 2007, OSTI introduced the concept of, which searches across national and international...

Related Topics: Energy Files, federated search, milestones,, (WWS)


Transparency of Scientific Information

by Mike Jennings 01 Jul, 2009 in Technology

As a coordinator of Web 2 media and product technology at OSTI, I've often wondered whether the stakeholders involved in the development of DOE scientific reports could benefit more from web innovations such as websites, blog sites, subscriptions, and "live" content. The commercial Web and its second generation of Web 2 innovations have certainly been relevant factors in the transparency equation for other types of information on the Web outside of science. Specifically, I suggest that Web innovations would complement electronic document innovations for the transparency of DOE scientific information reports.

The majority of new DOE scientific information is preserved in commercial electronic document formats like the Adobe PDF format which require special software to view and navigate the information. PDF document technology is less useful for certain features. This is especially true for web browsers and mobile devices.

By promoting a mix of conventional and modern Web innovations in DOE's research documentation life-cycle, the following benefits could be realized for DOE scientific and technical information:

  • Conventional websites use hyper-linking to connect a thought written in one document to another thought "anchored" in another document. Perhaps hyper-linking is a better way for one DOE researcher to cite the work of another.
  • Blog sites automatically provide chronological, topical, and subject-relational approaches for studying information whereas electronic documents usually present only one sequential read of the information.
  • Subscription to website content is more convenient.  The RSS and email protocols enable websites and blogs to deliver frequent, bite-size information to mobile devices.  Mobile devices are less able to manage the software needed to access the information stored inside electronic documents. 
  • Electronic documents are mostly static.  But websites use both conventional and modern...

    Related Topics: electronic documents, transparency, web 2.0


OSTI is Committed to Facilitating Science Research

by Karen Spence 04 Dec, 2008 in Technology

is driven! We are fully committed to providing scientists and
researchers with the social networking tools and services that can
make it easier for them to more rapidly advance their scientific
research. We have a number of exciting ongoing initiatives in support
of accelerating the evolution of science. Here are ten that come to

  1. We
    are committed to forming relationships with universities, both the
    technical research departments and the supporting research
    libraries, to make sure that the university research community is
    aware of the many products and services that OSTI has to help them
    in their research endeavors.

  2. We
    are committed to providing the bells and whistles for various
    products that make those products user friendly.

  3. We
    aim to make it easy for scientists to keep up with new research
    efforts so we are actively investigating new and innovative ways to
    deliver information through RSS feeds, alert services, and other

  4. We
    are investigating the use of clustering...

    Related Topics: doe, osti


Beyond Collecting: Connecting

by Dr. Walt Warnick 19 Nov, 2008 in Technology

by Walt Warnick and Sol Lederman

OSTI has embraced a new paradigm for sharing scientific and technical information (STI). Historically, OSTI has fulfilled its mission of providing STI to scientists, researchers, and the public by hosting, or collecting, documents and/or metadata. OSTI's new paradigm is to make content searchable that is often hosted by others; today, OSTI connects those seeking the content with the organizations that host it.

Beginning in the late 1940's, with OSTI's production of the Nuclear Science Abstracts - which was to go on for nearly 30 years, OSTI entered into the business of collecting information.  Beginning in the 1990's, OSTI began creating web application to make the collected content openly accessible and conveniently searchable.  ETDE Web, DOE Information Bridge, the Energy Citations Database, and DOE R&D Accomplishments are some of the successful applications.

In the last several years, OSTI's approach to disseminating STI has evolved. Recent applications such as the Eprint Network,, DOE Science Accelerator, and connect users with the highest quality science information without collecting or hosting it.

How does OSTI move beyond collecting to connecting and what does connecting mean? OSTI's new applications search content that is housed in document repositories owned by a number of government agencies and government-sanctioned organizations. OSTI applications search a number of these repositories on the fly and they aggregate the content from the sources they search and present the most relevant of the search results to the user. This simultaneous and real-time search of multiple repositories is called federated search. OSTI's federated search applications serve as...

Related Topics: mission, sti, DOE Research & Development (R&D) Accomplishments, Energy Citations Database (ECD), ETDEWEB


Pushing the Limits is Key to OSTI's Success

by Dr. Walt Warnick 09 Oct, 2008 in Technology

by Walt Warnick and Sol Lederman

While federated search is a core technology that OSTI employs to tackle challenges of sharing knowledge, the technology isn't perfect.  OSTI aggressively uses federated search because it does what no other search technology can do--inexpensively making dozens of non-Googleable databases searchable via a single query.  Two nagging limitations of federated search are that it can take 30 seconds to execute a search--which seems slow in the digital age--and hit lists are not exhaustive. 

To drive progress, we at OSTI are constantly striving to design affordable information systems that work as well as we can make them.  We call this the "art of the possible." At the same time, we confidently recognize that tomorrow's information technology will make our systems work better.  By deploying first-of-a-kind systems, we not only advance our mission, we also call attention to the need for new technology to address our limitations.  OSTI thus makes an important contribution to technological progress, even if it is not OSTI itself that develops tomorrow's technology.  By pushing the state-of-the-art today, we highlight needs and hasten the arrival of tomorrow's information technology.

History shows that an unwillingness to be deterred by the limitations of the day leads to ultimate success. Consider the case of the first general purpose electronic computer, ENIAC, unveiled in 1946:

ENIAC contained 17,468, vacuum tubes7,200 crystal diodes, 1,500 relays, 70,000 resistors, 10,000 ...

Related Topics: eniac, federated search