Professor-led expert search system is an expert at finding experts
Who they are
Purdue can seem like a pretty big place and not just to freshman new to the campus. Researchers looking for collaborators with specific expertise can find the University tough to navigate sometimes, too, which is how the Purdue University Research Expertise search system (PURE for short) came about in a project led by computer science Professors Jeffery Vitter and Aditya Mathur in 2005.
PURE worked so well the Indiana Economic Development Corporation funded its enhancement and expansion as the basis for a statewide expert search system for locating research expertise in the state of Indiana. Called INDURE (Indiana Database for University Research Expertise), the system is now openly accessible to business and industry leaders, policy makers and the public. The next step may be making it easy to find experts anywhere.
What they're doing
Mathur, professor and former head of the Computer Science Department, computer science Professor Luo Si, doctoral student Yi Fang and colleagues are working to commercialize the technology as Pinta, a name taken from the fastest of the three ships used by explorer Christopher Columbus.
In addition to institutional and faculty websites, Pinta uses a sophisticated algorithm to cull a variety of heterogeneous data such as research publications, grant awards and even doctoral dissertations for the specific task of discerning the specialties of expert sources and automatically creating a profile of them. Its search results then rank the experts on their expertise in the topic being searched, with the likeliest best fit at the top. A user might reach the same conclusion eventually using a general search engine such as Google, but more than likely only after reading multiple layers of search results and linked Web pages. With Pinta, the payoff can be nearly instantaneous.
How they got there
The Pinta team disclosed the core technology to the Purdue Research Foundation (PRF) and its Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC). This is a requirement for commercializing intellectual property developed at the University, but it also serves to protect Purdue’s and the developers’ rights to benefit from the innovations. OTC and PRF can assist Purdue staff and student innovators in filing copyrights, patents and trademarks, as well as in setting up companies and marketing to potential commercial partners. Other universities and states already have expressed interest in using the Pinta technology for their own experts search systems.
Fang also put together a team, with MBA students from the Krannert School of Management, to enter Pinta in the annual business plan competition of the Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship in Purdue’s Discovery Park. The group won $7,500 to help advance its project.
"It's my feeling that research in an engineering discipline ought to be related to potential benefits to society and the question is how do you conduct research that does that sooner rather than later," Mathur says. "Not all research can be like that and I'm not saying all research should be like that. But the bulk of engineering research leads to products that benefit society."
"Focus on what the need is in the markets instead of trying to purely develop from your own research program," Si says. "It's better to look at it from both those sides and try to find a good connection."