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29 Sep 2015

Data is Light – observations from the 6th RDA Plenary

“It is like opening the curtains – the more you open the more is unveiled. Data is light.”  The words from French Minister of State for Digital Technology Axelle Lemaire, who spoke at the opening session of the 6th RDA (Research Data Alliance) Plenary. The meeting took place on 23-25 September in Paris, France.

The Plenary attracted a record audience: over 700 participants took part to the meeting. In total RDA has over 3200 members from 103 countries. It is a remarkable figure since RDA was just launched in 2013. RDA is working on building the social and technical bridges to facilitate data sharing and re-use on a global scale. "We are the ones who are building the bridges", stated RDA Secretary General Mark Parsons.

Keynote speaker Barbara Ryan, Secretariat Director at Group on Earth Observations aptly put it: “Countries have borders, research doesn’t”. This is exactly the vision for RDA: researchers and innovators openly sharing data across technologies, disciplines, and countries to address the grand challenges of society.

Bridge builders at the 6th RDA Plenary at the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers, Paris, France. Photo Credit: Anni Jakobsson

Bridge builders at the 6th RDA Plenary at the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers, Paris, France. Photo Credit: Anni Jakobsson

RDA currently has 56 Working and Interest groups, and the three days were packed with Working and Interest group meetings as well as 26 Birds of a Feather (BoFs) meetings where new ideas and potential groups are discussed. In these groups, experts come together to exchange knowledge, share discoveries, discuss barriers and potential solutions, explore and define policies and test as well as harmonise standards to enhance and facilitate global data sharing.

Coupled with this RDA boasts a broad, committed membership of individuals and organisations dedicated to improving data exchange. 4 new deliverables from the Working and Interest groups were published at the 6th Plenary meeting bringing the total to 8 with 4 new ones from the RDA – WDS (World Data System) due early next year. The outputs are summarized in the Outputs Booklet.

A new phase of RDA

Adoption of the RDA results is essential. This is the way the highly valuable outputs produced by the RDA Working Groups are taken into practice.

“We have moved into a new phase in RDA. I’m pleased to see how much adoption there is”, Parsons continued.

The adoption of the RDA outputs had taken a leap forward from the 5th Plenary in San Diego half a year ago. This time seven adopters from EU and the US presented how they have taken RDA recommendations into use. The adopters from the US presented at the Plenary were: Deep Carbon Observatory, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, and the Materials Innovation Infrastructure. First European adopters of the RDA results were presented too. The European RDA forerunners are EUDAT Collaborative Data Infrastructure, German Climate Computing Center (DKRZ) and Common Language Resources and Technology Infrastructure (CLARIN).

These institutions had taken into use e.g. the RDA Data Type Registry (DTR), which helps researchers to visualise the contents of unknown data types, or the RDA Data Foundation & Terminology (DFT), which helps the cross disciplinary data exchange and interoperability between scientific communities.

Enterprise engagement

The theme of this Plenary was enterprise engagement with a focus on research data for climate change. 21 Companies with solutions or products with a focus on climate change were showcased during the Experimentation Day. The goal of the Experimentation Day was to foster exchange between RDA members and data related company representatives, sharing views, challenges and dreams about data sharing.


Making environmental tracking personal

Plume Labs was one of the companies showcased during the day. The company is using open data to raise the awareness about air quality, and predict the air quality conditions. Using their apps, users in polluted cities are better aware when, for example, to go running, take kids to the park or eat outside and this way decrease their environmental health risk by avoiding excessive exposure at peak times. The company’s aim is to develop a dense net of personal air quality sensors, and this way users can get more detailed information about the air quality in the exact spot where the user is. The data collected by these portable sensors is also crowdsourced to create a better coverage of air quality sensors throughout the world even to places where air quality sensors wouldn’t otherwise exist.

“Air pollution kills more than AIDS and malaria combined. By breathing polluted air, you lose life expectancy. For example if you live in Paris, you have 6 months less life expectancy due to air pollutants. There are 7 million avoidable deaths by just following the quality of air that we breathe”, said Romain Lacombe, CEO of Plume Labs.

Plume Labs also was one of the winners of the RDA Climate Change Data Challenge and they will present their solutions at the COP21 conference in Paris in December 2015 together with the two other Climate Change Data Challenge winners Vizonomy and BioVeL.

Plume Lab’s air report, example of Seoul’s air quality report on 24 Sept. Source: Plume Lab

Plume Lab’s air report example of Seoul’s air quality report on 24 Sept. Source: Plume Lab

Computing processors heating water

One of the companies showcased during the RDA Experimentation Day was Defab. The company is developing green cloud computing via innovative technology. The company has developed a water heater which is combined with computing processors. The heat from the computing processors is used to warm up the water in the tank. The product combines a 200-300 litre water heater with ten computing processor units. The water in the tank is normal hot water that can be used e.g. in households, hotels etc. The customer buys the water heater, and the company pays the electric bill caused by the processor usage. At the same time, the company sells cloud-computing resources for customers for different purposes.

“There are no cooling costs, and no facility management. Using this technology there isn’t need for datacenters. This way, we are able to match scientific research and energy savings”, said Benjamin Laplane, one of the founders of the green start-up.

The final prototype will be running by the end of the year, and there will be 10-15 units installed around Paris during next year.

Defab was selected as one of the RDA Experimentation Day winners together with Plume Labs.

Defab’s ( water heater which heats up the water using the energy from the combined computing processors. Source: Defab

Defab’s water heater which heats up the water using the energy from the combined computing processors. Source: Defab.

Next time in Japan

The biyearly RDA Plenaries are truly global events with active participants from around the word who are dedicated to improve research data exchange. The main theme of the 6th Plenary, Enterprise Engagement also brought two new organisational members to RDA, growing the total number to 39. Attracting more enterprise involvement in the data ecosystem is key for future development of the RDA.

The next RDA Plenary will take place in Tokyo, Japan 1-3 March 2016 with the theme Making Data Sharing Work in the era of Open Science.

Author: Anni Jakobsson, CSC - IT Center for Science Ltd., Finland. Twitter: @annijakobsson



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