The term ‘eResearch’ is used to refer to the application of advanced information and communication technologies to the practice of research. It enhances existing research processes, making them more efficient and effective, and it enables new kinds of research processes.
Researchers around the world have been exploiting the opportunities of eResearch for most of the last 15 years, with leadership in countries such as the UK (under the name e-Science) and the US (as Cyberinfrastructure). Key areas include high-performance computing, data management and access, collaboration, networking and security.
These new capabilities are being adopted to an extent where they are described as "essential, not optional, to the aspirations of research communities," by the US NSF Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee, see full report. They have the potential to “revolutionise what research communities can do, how they can do it and who participates”. Some major applications are: understanding global climate change, protecting our natural environment, applying genomics-proteomics to human health, and predicting and protecting against natural and human disasters.
In Australia, adoption of eResearch tools and services has been highly variable across research disciplines.
The Federal Government had over many years supported various information infrastructure initiatives, and launched an eResearch Coordinating Committee which reported in April 2007.
Key was the development of the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy in 2005, which realised that systemic infrastructure could not be developed from small project competitive grant schemes. NCRIS identified 16 key capability areas in a wide range of (but not all) disciplines for targeted investment of $542million over 2005-2011.
One of the NCRIS capability areas is the use of eResearch to support Australian research disciplines and institutions, and led to the formation of the Platforms-for-Collaboration program, funded with $82million. PfC identified the key areas for investment as:
- High-performance computing, through the National Computational Infrastructure
- Collaboration tools and services, through the Australian Research Collaboration Service
- Research data management, preservation and access, through the Australian National Data Service
- Connectivity through networks managed by AARNet
- Authentication and Authorisation services for access control, through the Australian Access Federation.
In 2009 an additional $312million was allocated for 2009-2013 for the nation’s eResearch infrastructure and services developments.
The infrastructure and services are delivered through the above national programs in partnerships with major state-based initiatives such as Intersect in NSW.