Internet of Samples: iSamples

Toward an Interdisciplinary Cyberinfrastructure for Material Samples NSF-2004839

The Internet of Samples (iSamples) is a multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional project funded by the National Science Foundation to design, develop, and promote service infrastructure to uniquely, consistently, and conveniently identify material samples, record metadata about them, and persistently link them to other samples and derived digital content, including images, data, and publications.


Project Objectives

  1. Design and develop iSamples infrastructure (iSamples in a Box and iSamples Central);
  2. Build four initial implementations of iSamples for adoption and use case testing (Open Context, GEOME, SESAR, and Smithsonian Institution);
  3. Conduct outreach and community engagement to developers, individual researchers, and international organizations concerned with material samples.

iSamples diagram Diagram from: Neil Davies, John Deck, Eric C Kansa, Sarah Whitcher Kansa, John Kunze, Christopher Meyer, Thomas Orrell, Sarah Ramdeen, Rebecca Snyder, Dave Vieglais, Ramona L Walls, Kerstin Lehnert, Internet of Samples (iSamples): Toward an interdisciplinary cyberinfrastructure for material samples, GigaScience, Volume 10, Issue 5, May 2021, giab028, https://doi.org/10.1093/gigascience/giab028


Research frequently uses material samples as a basic element for reference, study, and experimentation in many scientific disciplines, especially in the natural and environmental sciences, material sciences, agriculture, physical anthropology, archaeology, and biomedicine. Observations made on samples collected in the field and in the laboratory constitute a critical data resource for research that addresses grand challenges of our planet’s future sustainability, from environmental change; to food, energy, and water resources; to natural hazards and their mitigation; to public health. The large investments of public funds being made to curate huge volumes of samples acquired over decades or even centuries, and to collect and analyze new samples demand these samples to be openly accessible, easily discoverable, and documented with sufficient information to make them reusable. The current ecosystem of sample and sample data management in the U.S. and globally is highly fragmented across stakeholders, including museums, federal agencies, academic institutions, and individual researchers, with a multitude of institutional and discipline-specific catalogs, practices for sample identification, and protocols for describing samples.

The iSamples project is a multi-disciplinary collaboration that will develop a national digital infrastructure that will provide services for globally unique, consistent, and convenient identification of material samples; metadata about them; and linking them to other samples, derived data, and research results published in the literature. iSamples builds on previous initiatives to achieve this by providing material samples with globally unique, persistent identifiers that reliably link to landing pages with metadata describing the sample and its provenance, and which allow unambiguously linking samples with data and publications.

Leveraging significant national investments, iSamples provides the missing link among

  1. physical collections (e.g., natural history museums, herbaria, biobanks),
  2. field stations, marine laboratories, long-term ecological research sites, and observatories, and
  3. data repositories and cyberinfrastructure. iSamples delivers enhanced infrastructure for STEM research and education, decision-makers, and the general public.

iSamples benefits national security and resource management by offering a means to assure sample provenance, improving scientific reproducibility and demonstrating compliance with ethical standards, national regulations, and international treaties, (e.g., automated audits of sensitive archaeological specimens, endangered species, or specimens containing controlled substances).

Technical perspective

The iSamples project will:

Principal Investigators

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Numbers 2004839, 2004562, 2004642, and 2004815 . Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.