Supporting data-sharing to speed up innovation in Materials Science

Elsevier’s open data initiative will provide new ways of storing, sharing and accessing research data

Update: This initiative has been featured on the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy blog.

White House OSTP blog

13 journals are participating in Elsevier's new Materials Science data-sharing initiative.

Materials find their way into most aspects of our lives, from our clothes to our phones and computers, to the chair I'm sitting on while writing this article. New materials have the potential to transform the way we heal, move around the world and communicate.

To accelerate the development of new materials, researchers increasingly apply computational approaches requiring input of high-quality data to simulate material behavior. Validating predictions from these models requires intense scrutiny of both the published literature and experimental data.

Herein lies the problem that affects scientists across all disciplines: while data is undoubtedly important in speeding up innovation, a global infrastructure is vital to ensure that research data can be stored, validated, publically accessible and usable. Internationally, research funders are focusing on making data publically accessible by increasingly requiring data management plans to be included in grant proposals and initiatives. At the same time, global working groups such as the Research Data Alliance are bringing together different stakeholders to make progress on the challenges around research data, ranging from standards and technical solutions to establishing best practices and policy recommendations.

In the material science community, "making digital data accessible" has been one of the four axes of the Materials Genome Initiative Strategic Plan, released in December 2014. The Materials Genome Initiative (MGI) was launched by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in 2011 with an overarching aim to help businesses develop new materials while greatly reducing the time it takes from idea to market from two decades to a few years. This move has resulted in more than $400 million in funding to support materials science research and data infrastructure.

[pullquote align="right"]The metaphor of the gene to describe the fundamental building blocks of materials was coined by Prof. Zi-Kui Liu of Penn State University, Editor-in-Chief of Elsevier's journal CALPHAD.[/pullquote]

As publishers, we see two main challenges to making research data widely sharable and accessible. First and foremost is encouraging scientists to share their data where suitable and appropriate. This is not easy as they have worked hard to acquire or create this data, and in some cases it contains the basis of what will become research articles and patents. The second issue is that once the data is accessible, it needs to be discovered and used. Key to enabling the re-use of datasets is the availability of the metadata that will allow for reproducing experiments and ensure that the data can be found and interpreted – making it crucial to have proper links to the published literature. In achieving this vision, we should also make sure that researchers get credited for all aspects of their reported work.

Elsevier has long been supportive of researchers who wish to share their research data, and we are continually working on ways to meet their data-related needs. In particular, a team at Elsevier that includes Dr. Elena Zudilova-Seinstra (Senior Content Innovation Manager) and Dr. Paige Shaklee (Publisher, Genomics) has been working on the development of in-article data visualization and linking tools and the creation of a new type of journal that includes MethodsX, Data in Brief and SoftwareX. These journals publish microarticles — short articles that present methods, data or computer code. This research output can be highly valuable to other researchers but does not always fit into the traditional article format.


Building an infrastructure for material science data sharing

To best serve the needs of the materials science community, we have worked with the editors of some of the leading journals in our Materials Science portfolio to embrace a number of data-sharing solutions developed by Elsevier and embark on a journey towards more data-sharing.

Starting February 9, authors who publish in any of the 13 selected journals will be able to submit data points that will be turned into interactive graphs via Interactive Plots, to publicly share data sets alongside their articles using a pilot called Open Data, and to submit a microarticle which describes data associated to their article to the open access journal Data in Brief that has the capability to host data sets.

The selected journals were chosen to encompass research on a broad range of materials, including semiconductors, polymers, ceramics, biomaterials, metallic alloys, composites and concrete. These materials find application in construction, tissue engineering, energy generation, batteries, electronics and aircrafts. In 2014, the participating journals published 7500 articles, authored by tens of thousands of researcher based in over 95 countries.

This data-sharing initiative has received strong support from the editors and authors of the selected journals. "I am very supportive of this move for Polymer," said Stephen ZD Cheng, Senior Editor of Polymer and Frank C. Sullivan Distinguished Research Professor at the the University of Akron.

Dr. George "Rusty" T Gray III, Chair of our society partners at Acta Materialia Inc. said: "Having served on a few NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) panels advocating data archives, I firmly believe this is critical."

And Professor Barraza-Lopez of the University of Arkansas, who recently made use of the link to a description of his data in Data in Brief from Computational Materials Science, said:

With Data in Brief, many developments in research can become more useful when data sources are shared. We are excited and grateful for the opportunity to have our data accessible at no cost to the community.

New data-sharing options

These journals now have new three options to make data available and usable:

An overview of the options for data-sharing alongside articles

  • Interactive Plots (iPlots): Authors are invited to submit a file containing the data points from their graphs, which will power interactive graph functionality and make the underlying data available to the reader.
  • Data in Brief: When publishing a study in a journal, authors can upload a microarticle providing the context and metadata for that study. This microarticle will be automatically submitted for publication in the open access journal Data in Brief, which offers a Creative Commons CC BY user license.


Elsevier Connect Contributors

Baptiste Gault, PhDAfter completing a PhD in physics at the University of Rouen in France (2006), Dr. Baptiste Gault (@bat__go) was an atom probe scientist and a nuclear materials scientist at the University of Sydney, a Marie Curie postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Materials of the University of Oxford. After a brief stint as an Assistant Professor at McMaster University (Canada) in 2012, he became a Publisher in the Materials Science group at Elsevier, based in Oxford. He has published over 60 research articles and peer-reviewed more than 50.

Hylke Koers, PhDDr. Gault looks after the Materials Engineering portfolio, which includes two journals from Acta Materialia Inc: Acta Materialia and Scripta Materialia; Materials Science and Engineering R, Materials & Design, Journal of Nuclear Materials, and Computational Materials Science among others. He is also a visiting academic at the Department of Materials, University of Oxford.

Dr. Hylke Koers is the Head of Content Innovation at Elsevier, leading a team that is responsible for enhancing the online article format to better capture and present modern-day research. Part of Elsevier's Article of the Future program, this includes improved online presentation, better support and visualization of digital content, and contextualization of the article by linking with data repositories and other sources of trusted scientific content on the web.

Before joining Elsevier in 2010, Hylke received a PhD in theoretical astrophysics from the University of Amsterdam and served as a postdoctoral research associate at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. He is based in Amsterdam.

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