New ConceptVISTA Web Site

ConceptVISTA, the software product which is a result of the research described below, has a new home on the Web.

Recent developments in computer and information science are providing computational tools, protocols and standards that can aid scientists integrate their databases, share their methods and outcomes of their research, and distribute their computing infrastructure. Federated databases and database integration provide tools for coordinated data management, portal technology and web services provide customizable access points to methods and data, and grid technology coupled with high-speed data connections provide distributed but high-powered computational resources.

On top of this emerging 'cyber-infrastructure', researchers within the GeoVISTA Center are building some of the languages and tools that will form a 'semantic layer', allowing researchers to describe their resources according to the concepts and relationships that underpin them, to visualize, browse and share these semantic descriptions and even to collaborate together over the Internet to synthesize a shared understanding; in short, to 'keep' their knowledge more effectively. This layer of cyber-infrastructure has many facets. Firstly, semantic languages are needed that can formally describe concepts and relationships-such languages are usually called 'ontologies'. Secondly, tools are needed to allow these ontologies to be constructed, visualized and shared. Thirdly, describing computational resources in terms of concepts and relationships only gets at certain more formal aspects of meaning. Other aspects derive from more informal knowledge such as how resources are used (use cases) and how they are made (process networks). By engineering systems that remember these details, researchers can understand resources according to how others have applied them in their work, or how they were created in the first place.

Representing geographical meanings in computational systems gives rise to some very deep and challenging problems, leading some scientists to declare that the task is next to impossible. In practice we need only go so far as to provide a richer set of clues from which the users of the system can synthesize their own understanding, it is not necessary for the machine itself to 'understand'.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is investing heavily in the development of cyber-infrastructure for different science communities, to foster deeper levels of collaboration, and perhaps even radically change the process of science via the incorporation of knowledge management. It is a bold and ambitious plan. GeoVISTA plays a part in three such initiatives: GEON-the Geosciences Network (www.geongrid.org), HERO-Human-Environment Regional Observatories (http://hero.geog.psu.edu/) and DialogPlus-Digital Libraries in Support of Innovative Approaches to Teaching and Learning in Geography (www.dialogplus.org).

For more information, contact Mark Gahegan at mng1@psu.edu

Visit http://www.geovista.psu.edu/ConceptVISTA/ to learn more.