The International Council on Nanotechnology

Databases, databases, databases

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) announced that it has published a database of research projects related to the safety of manufactured nanomaterials. If that sounds vaguely familiar, it's because this database was created by and used to reside at the website of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Back in the day, when there was only a small number of databases relating to nanotech safety issues, we had a grand vision of creating a central resource for sifting through the growing information about nano-EHS. ICON's first step in that direction was to allow someone visiting our bibliographic database of nano-EHS papers to search the NIOSH Nanoparticle Information Library (NIL) and the PEN research database from our site.

The complementarity among these independent efforts can be illustrated with a hypothetical example. Imagine you are a researcher looking for information on quantum dot toxicity. From one site you could (a) find the research already published on the subject (ICON), (b) discover information about the particles from manufacturers or other users of the materials (NIL) and (c) get a sense for what's coming in the future by perusing active government-funded quantum dot research projects (PEN). And, what's more, you could conduct such a search no matter which database you landed in because each would offer the ability to search the others.

For a time, it started to look like this would work. First ICON and NIL offered this triple-search ability at each other's site. (PEN reciprocity was put on hold when OECD agreed to take over and maintain the research database.) Then the NIOSH NIL went offline over concerns about computer security. The PEN database is now the OECD database and it now points to ICON but the ICON database doesn't point to it yet. Oh, yeah, and there are now lots more niche databases online or (mostly) under development.

But stay tuned for future developments. We will change our Advanced Search function to allow searching within the OECD database as soon as our Web Services gets to it. And the NIOSH NIL may soon rise again, though outside of NIOSH's firewall. As for integration of all the other databases popping up out there, I'm open to exploring this. Funding agencies and other benefactors: Call me.

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