Toward a global and multi-disciplinary network of FAIR physical samples

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04 Aug 2020
Meeting objectives: 

This session will provide a forum for existing and emerging initiatives and projects related to physical samples in the research data ecosystem to update the community on their goals and activities, and to communicate, network, and coordinate with each other, with other RDA Interest Groups and RDA Working Groups, and with the broader research data community. The goal of this session is to converge on a shared vision and strategy for advancing discovery, accessibility, interoperability, and reusability of material samples across domains for the benefit of science and society.

Over the past 6 months several new projects and initiatives have started including: the proposed ESIP Samples Cluster, focused on curation aspects for physical samples in the Earth Sciences; iSamples, a project to build transdisciplinary cyberinfrastructure with services to identify and record metadata for material samples; collection metadata development efforts by GBIF and the USGS; and the IGSN 2040 project, which is developing a strategic plan and roadmap for the IGSN Global Sample Number in its mission of providing persistent, sustainable, and reliable PID services to the international science community. We will invite representatives of these efforts as panelists to discuss opportunities and challenges for networking and coordination and to engage with participants of the session in breakout groups. We will request the panelists to provide short pre-recorded presentations about their projects in order to save the time during the session for discussions of the panel and the audience.

Vocabularies used to describe and categorize or classify physical samples are one of the topics that needs to be addressed through cross-disciplinary collaborative work. Metadata classes for samples widely overlap across disciplines, but vocabularies are often discipline-specific. As the use of samples in multi-disciplinary studies grows and discipline-agnostic services of identifying and cataloguing samples become prevalent, we need to create a structure, in which the different disciplinary vocabularies can be catalogued, accessed, managed, and mapped to common metadata classes. Building off of the work conducted during the ‘Proliferation of Vocabularies in Solid Earth, Space and Environmental sciences: Which one should I use and which ones can I trust?’ plenary at the ESIP Summer meeting [], we will engage the RDA community in how we harmonize multidisciplinary vocabularies to create a global network of physical samples.

Meeting agenda: 


Collaborative Notes Link:


  1. Welcome (10 minutes)
    1. Logistics & overview of session objectives 
    2. Welcome to new co-chair Esther Plomp, brief presentation on her award-winning essay
  2. Emerging or planned infrastructure and services projects for FAIR samples and collections – short presentations & discussion (40 minutes)
    1. Interoperable Enriched Specimen Information Models (Alex Hardisty)
    2. iSamples (Neil Davies)
    3. ESIP Samples Cluster (Val Stanley)
    4. IGSN 2040 (Sarah Ramdeen)
    5. AuScope Geochemistry Network (Alex Prent)
    6. Audience can contribute additional projects and initiatives that they are involved with not listed above
    7. Questions & discussion
  3. Harmonizing multi-disciplinary vocabularies for physical samples and collections (30 minutes)
    1. Introduction to the concept of a vocab agnostic system for samples (Lesley)
    2. Outcomes of the ESIP Plenary session "Proliferation of Vocabularies in Solid Earth, Space and Environmental sciences" (Sarah)
    3. Reports from other metadata mapping efforts (TBD)
    4. Audience participation to identify existing and emerging vocabularies
    5. propose 'low-hanging fruit' activity for harmonizing sample and collection vocabularies
  4. Synthesis and Next steps (10 minutes)


Target Audience: 

The target audience of this meeting includes:

  1. Research data repository developers and providers who manage sample-based data;

  2. Curators and developers from sample repositories, museums, and other institutions who maintain physical sample collections and related digital sample and collection catalogues;

  3. Publishers and editors of journals that publish sample-based data; and

  4. Other stakeholders interested in topics such as persistent identifiers, metadata standards, and interoperability protocols for samples and sample-based data.

  5. Researchers that use physical samples in their workflows and can provide case studies or insights for relevant metadata (standards). 

Group chair serving as contact person: 
Brief introduction describing the activities and scope of the group: 

Physical samples are a basic element for reference, study, and experimentation in research. Tests and analyses are conducted directly on samples, such as biological specimens, rock or mineral specimens, soil or sediment cores, plants and seeds, water quality samples, archaeological artefacts, physical manuscripts, or DNA and human tissue samples because they represent a wider population or a larger context. There is an urgent need for better integrating these physical objects into the digital research data ecosystem, both in a global and in an interdisciplinary context to support search, retrieval, analysis, reuse, preservation and scientific reproducibility. 

 This group aims to facilitate cross-domain exchange and convergence on key issues related to the digital representation of physical samples and collections, including but not limited to: 

  • use of globally unique and persistent identifiers for samples to support unambiguous citation and linking of information in distributed data systems and with publications; 

  • metadata standards for documenting a diverse range of samples and collections and for landing pages; 

  • access policies; 

  • and best practices for sample and collection cataloguing, including a broad range of issues from interoperability to persistence.

Short Group Status: 

Please indicate when your group has been established and provide some more information about its status: if it has just started, it is producing deliverables or it is in its last phase and therefore wrapping up. Any other information about the activities that your group is undertaking at the moment of the submission will be taken into consideration during the evaluation.

 The group formed in Montreal and P10 and has met at each plenary ever since as follows:


1.    P10 Montreal (Sept 2017): IG Physical Samples and Collections in the Research Data Ecosystem

2.    P11 Berlin (March 2018): IG Physical Samples and Collections in the Research Data Ecosystem

3.    P12 Gaborone (Nov 2018): Physical Samples and Collections in the Research Data Ecosystem IG

4.    P13 Philadelphia (April 2019): IG Physical Samples and Collections in the Research Data Ecosystem (IG - PSACIRDE)

5.    P14 Helsinki (Oct 2019): Designing a pathway towards Implementing a Transdisciplinary Data Infrastructure for Physical Samples

6. P15 (April 2020): Identifying physical samples and linking them to the global research data ecosystem

Type of Meeting: 
Working meeting
Avoid conflict with the following group (1): 
Avoid conflict with the following group (2): 
Meeting presenters: 
Kerstin Lehnert, Esther Plomp (co-chairs); Neil Davies, Alex Hardisty, Alexander Prent, Sarah Ramdeen, Valerie Stanley