SciLife: A New Communication Platform for Research Scientists

18 07 2008
Ambitious project initiated by an interdisciplinary team of research and computer scientists from the University of Heidelberg and from Lausanne and Dresden
SciLife is a new virtual presentation and communication platform specially designed for scientific content. Freely accessible since July 2008, its purpose is to facilitate scientist networking and simplify the search for equipment and research scientists.

Only very rarely do research scientists find all the know-how and all the devices they need in their own research groups. Accordingly, the laborious quest for information is part and parcel of a research scientist’s everyday life. SciLife, a new internet community for research scientists, tackles this problem head-on. Much like StudiVZ or Xing, SciLife is a virtual platform on which members can quickly and easily communicate their own profiles, add contacts, establish groups or join already existing groups. It also provides the usual search function, plus a news function and forum communication. Navigation is self-explanatory. Given the international nature of the target group, SciLife is in English throughout.

SciLife is designed to enable scientists to find out in the briefest possible space of time whether the (expensive) equipment they are looking for may actually be on site only a few buildings away and also have some capacity slack, or whether somewhere on the home campus there’s a research group working successfully with a method that has yet to be established in their own group.

Accordingly, members are invited to enter a collection of cues in their profiles indicating where their research interests lie (e.g. DNA, RNAi, drosophila or even just biochemistry). Existing equipment is listed under the “Resources” heading. The same profiling principle applies to research groups as to individuals.

This way, a search for DNA will come up with individuals and groups working on DNA, a bioanalyser located in Heidelberg and various publications on the subject. A user new to the topic can immediately track down an existing network appropriate to his/her purposes and exploit all its assets. In the same way one can also obtain an overview of a research location by entering “Heidelberg” or some other place name.

The idea is that, in the course of time and via the interlinkage of the various profiles, SciLife will grow into a virtual research network faithfully reflecting the research landscape and featuring an up-to-the-minute database that all members will profit from. Cooperative research activities can also be initiated via SciLife.

But this is not the only ambitious objective the platform providers have set their sights on. One voluntary feature of the research scientists’ profiles is a kind of scientific visiting-card, including a CV, a brief rundown on research activities so far and, of course, a list of publications. This is designed to give members an additional job-search option and also help companies to find highly qualified staff via SciLife.

The ambitious SciLife project was initiated by an interdisciplinary team of research and computer scientists from the University of Heidelberg and from Lausanne and Dresden. They all know from their own experience how much need there is for an exchange of information that cannot be satisfied by conferences alone. Their initiative and dynamism was rewarded at this year’s CeBit exhibition, where their design for the integrated presentation and communication platform won a prize in the framework of the Federal Ministry of Economics’ start-up competition entitled “Starting Up Successfully with Multi-Media”.

Kai Uhrig is one of the initiators of SciLife. The long-term financing of the project causes him no headaches. “Private individuals and public research institutions can use SciLife for free,” he says. “But in the long term we also hope that companies will want to present their profiles via SciLife. In the long run, the project will continue to pay its way via target-group oriented advertising.”

SciLife went online in April 2008 and has been freely accessible since July. Many of the research groups in it still exist in name only and have yet to be manned by appropriate members. The success of the project depends on whether SciLife can weather the start-up phase successfully and grow beyond a critical number of users. Only if a sufficient number of scientists establish and look after a profile of their own will the platform become a genuinely useful and up-to-date source of information.
ks — 17.07.08; © BIOPRO Baden-Württemberg GmbH

Please address any inquiries to
Kai Uhrig
Institute of Physical Chemistry
University of Heidelberg

Journalists are invited to address more general inquiries to
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Public Information Officer
University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 542317

Irene Thewalt
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 542317

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