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iSchool doctoral student granted access to U.S. research facility supporting Nobel Prize-winning scientists studying climate change

February 16, 2010

Margaret Spillett
(315) 443-1069

John D’Ignazio, Ph. D. student in the Syracuse University School of Information Studies (iSchool), was accepted into the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Graduate Visitor Program, making him the first information studies student hosted by NCAR. The advanced study program gives students access to the center’s measuring tools, facilities and researchers devoted to understanding the atmosphere, the Earth, the sun and their interaction. He is also the first student to be sponsored by the NCAR Library, as part of its aim to support scholarly research and educational outreach activities.

The program is a perfect fit for D’Ignazio because atmospheric science is interdisciplinary by nature. Scientists depend on systems and interfaces that information science can help develop. These systems enable scientists to share and access data they create in the course of work on today’s large-scale science investigations, he says. One such large-scale project led scores of NCAR scientists to share the 2007 Nobel Prize with former Vice President Al Gore as part of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The Graduate Visitor program, now in its fifth year, has enabled graduate and doctoral students from a variety of countries and disciplines the opportunity to study with NCAR scientists. As a participant in the program, D’Ignazio will spend eight months in Boulder, Colo., starting this September.

While in Boulder, he will work with the library, technology groups creating digital repositories and NCAR scientists on a personal level to understand how they relate the organization of resources in databases to their work. This research will be applied to his dissertation, which aims to improve understanding of how technologists and librarians build systems to help scientists, compared with the scientists’ own internal organization of information they depend on while conducting their work.

To be selected for the program, D’Ignazio went through an intensive three-week application process in October. He attributes his success to his work with his thesis advisor, iSchool associate professor Jian Qin, whom he has assisted on two related projects, the Science Data Literacy project and the eScience Librarianship project. Also critical was sponsorship in the program by eScience and NCAR Library Director Mary Marlino, who has collaborated with iSchool Dean Liz Liddy on past digital library initiatives and research. “The competition was very stiff,” Marlino says.

“The projects I worked on with Jian were a critical factor to my being selected,” D’Ignazio says. “I have been dreaming of this opportunity. I want to help people connect with abstract information, stepping out of the library and into a scientist’s environment.”

D’Ignazio holds a B.S. in electrical engineering from Lehigh University, an M.S. in interactive design from Carnegie Mellon University and an M.S. in journalism from the University of Maryland-College Park.

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