Scouring the internet for pinpoint scientific data is being made quicker and easier through a new search engine developed at United Arab Emirates University (UAEU).
A research team at the Al Ain institution has developed an efficient and user-friendly method for scientists to conduct searches of biological databases in a more targeted and less time-consuming way by capitalizing on a concept known as the Semantic Web, with its design allowing it to support both novice and advanced users.
Biocarian – now available online – was created to address the issue of healthcare and life sciences researchers regularly needing to spend more than a third of their time sifting through masses of data to discover an answer to their queries. Led by Professor Nazar Zaki, Chair of the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering within UAEU’s College of Information Technology, and involving postdoctoral student Dr Chandana Tennakoon and UAEU undergraduates Meera Al-Shamisi, Aysha Alshamsi, Elham Mawlawi, Alanoud Al-Jaberi, and Amel Al-Ameri, it is designed to create a new bank of knowledge on the field of life sciences for the UAE, supporting healthcare and medical research within the nation and beyond.
“The internet is a huge, interlinked information resource, but is largely restricted to human use because the information is represented only in natural language,” explained Professor Zaki.
“The Semantic Web is a vision for the next generation of the internet, with the primary goal of making its facts amenable to computational processing and enabling true integration of knowledge across the Web, revolutionizing the way we access information.”
Biocarian, according to Professor Zaki, emerged from recognition of “the strong need to improve the efficiency of searching for scientific information”, and is drawing on the skills of UAEU students to drive it forward through a three-year project that includes a commercialization strategy based on integrated e-commerce models.
It allows complex queries to be constructed and entered, and offers additional features such as the capacity to enter “facet values” according to specific criteria. These allow users to explore collated information by applying a range of filters, helping them to find what they are looking for quicker.
“Exploratory searches need customized solutions, especially when multiple databases are involved,” said Professor Zaki. “This process is cumbersome and time-consuming for those without a sufficient background in computer science, which is why a search engine facilitating exploratory searches of databases would be of great help to the scientific community.”
“The project has high importance for the UAE, as it will create a life science knowledge-base which the country can leverage in future projects, with a view to making significant contributions to medicine and healthcare, with specific relevance to the healthcare needs of UAE and other countries in the MENA region.”
The project is funded by the 'ICT Fund’; launched in 2008 by Telecommunications Regulatory Authority to achieve rapid, progressive and concrete developments within the ICT sector in the UAE.
To explore Biocarian, visit www.biocarian.com
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