Four software engineering students at Rochester Institute of Technology are teaming up with Mozilla to create a discovery tool that will be used by researchers around the world.
The tool, called the Mozilla Software Discovery Dashboard, will allow researchers to search multiple code-hosting services, including Zenodo, Figshare and GitHub, for scientific software. It is being designed as part of a larger open source initiative by Mozilla Science Lab to help researchers leverage the open web.
The RIT students working on the project will present a dashboard prototype at the Mozilla Festival Nov. 6–8 in London. The trip will allow the students to meet in-person with hundreds of scientists interested in using the dashboard, once it is developed.
Working on the RIT team are fifth-year students; Matt Mokary, from Philadelphia; Luke Coy, from Greece, N.Y.; Adam Blaine, from Peru, N.Y.; and Stefan Neamtu, from Erie, Pa. The group began working on the project, which is also its Software Engineering Senior Project, in September.
“Upwards of 70 to 75 percent of research papers are backed by some sort of software that the researcher writes to help parse or analyze the data,” said Neamtu. “Researchers publish the paper, but they never publish the code.”
Mozilla Science Lab is pushing researchers to publish their code in software repositories. In order to organize this code, Mozilla has begun developing a standard for metadata—or the data that describes other data. Examples of metadata tags might include the field of study, the date it was created and last modified, language of the code and other papers that it was used in.
“The dashboard that we are building will allow researchers to discover code that might help them, by search multiple software repositories using Mozilla’s metadata standard,” said Coy.
“It’s basically like Google Scholar for research code,” Mokary said.
To figure out how scientists would like the dashboard to look and function, the group has been collaborating with researchers from around the world, including a physicist at CERN and an ecological scientist in Alaska. The students also work with faculty coach Donald Boyd and advisor Abigail Cabunoc, a lead developer at Mozilla Science Lab.
The RIT team plans to finish the dashboard before May.
“And because the project is open source, we are excited for the opportunity to continue updating the project even after we graduate,” said Blaine.
Undergraduate students in RIT’s Department of Software Engineering complete a capstone senior project that assigns a small team to solve challenging, real-world software issues for companies and organizations. External corporate, non-profit and internal RIT business unit sponsors submit proposals for projects that teams can carry from inception through the software development lifecycle to deployment. The end result is a functional software system ready for use by the organization.
For more information about the Mozilla Software Discovery Dashboard project, go to http://www.se.rit.edu/~opensd/.