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Speaker Susan Winter describes the grand challenges for researchers in the information field

One way to anticipate where the cyber infrastructure field is heading is to identify the main drivers that got it to where it is today. And those drivers were the security concerns during the Cold War and the needs of “big science,” according to Susan Winter, acting deputy director and a program manager in the Office of Cyberinfrastructure at the National Science Foundation.

Winter presented “Grand Challenges in Cyber Infrastructure” on September 16, 2010, as part of the iSchool’s Brown Bag Speaker Series.

During her discussion, she traced the development and evolution of today’s Internet from a desire in the 1950s to have a network for military communications that was more secure than telephone transmissions. She explained the logical progression from ARPANET to MILNET and the commercialized web with browsers and HTML.

She projected key technological developments onto the social conditions that were pushing for those advances, and she highlighted the changes that new technological cyber infrastructure is causing in science.

She described the “old science” model as one that involved a physical lab with a researcher, a clear division of labor, and a narrow focus on work. “New science,” on the other hand, addresses complex problems using shared resources by an interdisciplinary team of researchers who are globally distributed and work asynchronously. New science also is generating huge amount of data—whether that data come from biologists’ human genome mapping or particle physicists working on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland.

Winter identified one grand challenge for information and library science researchers as figuring out how to organize all of this data.

“Five years ago, we didn’t know we needed library science at the table,” she said. “Today, we do.”

Winter explained how librarians know how to deal with electronic data and have skills in managing, curating, preserving, and re-using information. Those skills need to be brought into science and the whole field of research needs to be restructured, she said.

“New forms of work organization are needed,” she said. “Reward structures must evolve for these large-scale collaborations.”

“At what stage are data shared?” Winter asked. “Raw? After they have been cleaned?”
Also, infrastructure advances rapidly, as do storage formats. How can today’s scientists ensure that their materials and data will still be accessible a decade from now?
The NSF Office of Cyber Infrastructure is currently funding research to find answers to these and related questions.

About Susan J. Winter
Winter manages programs in Virtual Organizations as Sociotechnical Systems, Cyberenabled Discovery and Innovation, Science and Learning Centers and Science and Technology Centers. She earned a Ph.D. in business administration from the University of Arizona, an MA in organizational research methods from the Claremont Graduate University, and a BA in organizational psychology from the University of California, Berkeley and has more than 20 years of international managerial and consulting experience.

Her research on the impact of ICT on the organization of work has resulted in over 25 publications, 7 grants, and 30 refereed conference presentations (including 3 Best Paper awards). Her work has appeared in Information Systems Research, Information & Management, Frontiers of Entrepreneurship Research and the Database for Advances in Information Systems, been presented at the International Conference on Information Systems and at the Academy of Management, and been included as chapters in scholarly books. She currently serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Information Technology, Information and Organization, and Group and Organization Management.

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