14. September 2022

Data library for material researchers

The FAIRmat consortium is creating a platform for FAIR research data in materials science

Physics professor Claudia Draxl coordinates the new platform for materials science © WISTA Management GmbH

Terabytes of data: The aim of the FAIRmat consortium is not only to preserve the results and publications of materials research, but also the measurement data generated on the way there. In addition to avoiding redundant research by storing and providing these data, they shall also serve as a starting point for additional analyses by researchers.

In future, it will be possible for materials researchers to upload their experimental measurement data with just a few clicks: FAIRmat envisions a decentralised database that can be searched specifically for certain materials properties and is based on the FAIR standards. Measurement data in materials research are to be findable (F) as well as accessible (A). Moreover, data should be prepared to make them interoperable (I) and reusable (R) by researchers across different contexts.

A special trick: The platform can identify the type of code the researchers used to calculate their data and automatically puts it into a unitary form. Researchers familiar with NOMAD, the project’s predecessor, were already able to use this service to upload calculations. Piece by piece, the FAIRmat team is now making similar things possible for experimental data. “Ultimately, anyone searching for and selecting materials on the platform based on certain criteria should be able to see what the whole world has measured or calculated on this topic,” explains Claudia Draxl, professor of physics at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and coordinator of the FAIRmat consortium.

But why is it so important that materials researchers prepare their measurement data and exchange it with each other? “When I calculate a material property on the computer or measure something – such as the conductivity or optical properties of a material – a lot of valuable information is generated on the way to the final result,” explains Claudia Draxl. “However, only a very small part of this is typically published.” Many calculations and experiments cannot be understood later if calculations, measurement conditions, and results are not reliably recorded, saved, and made available to others. Moreover, the unused data that some projects throw in the thrash might be the data gold for another with a different research question. Preserving data can thus help avoid duplicate measurements.

For its first five years, the consortium is planning to implement five experimental techniques and the production of samples in greater detail. In addition to parameter-free quantum mechanical calculations, they will also add classical simulations. “By doing so, we are laying the foundation and will then be able to scale up relatively easily to include other technologies,” says Claudia Draxl. “Lastly, this is a never-ending process because new experiments, techniques, measurement and analysis methods are added all the time.” The fact that the consortium feels emboldened to take on this colossal task is related to the great success of the previous project. "With the NOMAD laboratory, we already had ten years of experience in the collection and preparation of calculations. Colleagues from more experimental disciplines approached us again and again and asked whether this could not be extended to include experiments. The call from the National Research Data Infrastructure (NFDI), which funds FAIRmat, came at just the right time.”

Nora Lessing for Adlershof Journal