AIP Strives to Unite Scientists with UniPHY Social Network

Sep 11, 2009

You know online social networking has reached critical mass when physicists get their very own social network. While AIP UniPHY isn’t exactly Facebook, it is a networking site devoted to connecting physical scientists to one another. On Tuesday, September 8, the American Institute of Physics (AIP) unveiled the launch edition of its new site, AIP UniPHY– a scientific networking platform for communicating with colleagues, identifying potential collaborators, and keeping up with competitors.

Tim Ingoldsby, AIP’s director of strategic initiatives and publisher relations, says UniPHY is home to about 180,000 scientists’ profiles. One of the things that make this network different than more traditional social sites—other than, perhaps, its preponderance of brainy members—is that rather than waiting for users to sign-up, UniPHY developed profiles for its potential users. Through AIP’s partnership with Collexis Holdings, Inc., a developer of semantic technology and knowledge discovery software, UniPHY is able to gather information about researchers and pre-populate profiles with it. UniPHY does the work, and as Ingoldsby says, "Researchers just have to claim it as theirs."

Using Collexis’s proprietary Fingerprint technology, AIP UniPHY enables individuals to search for and locate documents, researchers, trends, and new discoveries. UniPHY starts by making connections based on a researchers publishing history, making it the world’s first literature-based, professional scientific networking platform. In essence, Collexis scans journal databases and makes connections based on a particular scientist’s publishing history, and co-authors. It also provides information like the number of papers someone has published, how many co-authors that author had, and what topics he has written about.

"By providing pre-populated profiles," said John Haynes, AIP’s vice-president, publishing, in a press release, "we hope to facilitate the process by which researchers connect and share data. We expect that this will both increase the number of significant breakthroughs made across a range of disciplines, and decrease the time it takes to bring these innovations about."

All of this information is presented in a variety of formats so that users can view it in a number of different contexts. For instance, there is a "network view" that allows you to see the other researchers a particular person is connected to, and to what degree using a graphic that is something akin to a spider web. However, you can include or exclude connections based on your own criteria (i.e. see only people who have published more than five times with this particular person). Or you can see a "geo network" which allows you to see hot beds of researching activity on a map.

"There’s no doubt that advances in communications technology have made the Earth ‘flatter’ by helping to eliminate the physical boundaries to collaboration in the sciences," says Ingoldsby. "AIP UniPHY contributes to this phenomenon in a novel way that greatly helps to foster constructive research alliances among scientists across the globe. As this service progresses, Collexis and AIP will be adding tools and data that further enhance scientific collaboration."

As Ingoldsby says, Tuesday's public launch is just the beginning. Right now UniPHY is missing some of the basics you might expect from a social networking site, such as the ability to upload a photo. "I can assure you we’re not done," says Ingoldsby.

Before the end of the year, Ingoldsby promises UniPHY will makes many upgrades, like "the ability to flesh out the profile, to upload a photo, and add details from a Curriculum Vitae." He also says UniPHY will add other ways of connecting people, and additional career information like research grants a person has received. He says, "This is just our first attempt at doing this." And the scientific community is nothing if not tenacious.