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Forage Through More Than A Century Of Nobel Prize Awards

By   /  March 6, 2013  /  No Comments

When the Nobel Prize winners for 2013 are announced in the fall, perhaps there also will be some challenges issued to the worldwide community of data enthusiasts to see what they can do with open Linked Data about the prizes that have been awarded since the beginning of the 20th century.

Right now that’s just on the wish lists of Matthias Palmér and Hannes Ebner, co-founders of MetaSolutions AB, a spin-off from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and Uppsala University focused on semantic and scalable web apps. But a solid start has been made through their work with Nobel Media AB, which develops and manages programs, productions and media rights of the Nobel Prize within the areas of digital and broadcast media, including the Nobelprize.org domain, on the Nobel Prize Linked Data set.

The project has gotten to its point to date with money from a Swedish national funding body, VINNOVA, focused on innovation and entrepreneurship.  The data set contains the authoritative information about Nobel prizes and Nobel Laureates since 1901. In addition to having the data accessible in RDF format, Andreas Krohn has developed a REST-based API that provides different ways to list and search the data.

“Our project was basically carried out in parallel and done to expose data in RDF in a linked way, linking with DBpedia, and basically aimed at making the data available,” says Ebner. The data contains information from the Nobel Media database about who has been awarded the Nobel Prize, when, in what prize category and the motivation for the award, as well as basic information about the Nobel Laureates such as birth data and the affiliation at the time of the award. The data also contains links to all documentation around the awards, such as recordings of the laureates’ speeches and transcriptions.

Without the Linked Data repository, it’s also more complex to find information at the NobelPrize.org site such as what Marie Curie’s two Nobel prizes were awarded for. “The focus [in that database] is on the prize, not the laureates, since that is the focus of the Nobel Foundation. But we think the Laureates are equally important,” says Palmer.  “And in Linked Data no one resource is more special than others.”

Recently, Ebner gives as another example, there was a quiz in a Swedish newspaper to the effect of who was the first Swedish Nobel Prize Laureate in a specific category. “You either know it or you can start Googling  for it, which could take time. Or you just use SPARQL to ask the repository, and get your answer in half a minute,” he says. And, “with SPARQL you can make quite complex queries, like all Nobel Laureates in Sweden who were born in a different country.”

Right now the interface is geared to users familiar with semantic technology, but if more funding comes through – as Palmér and Ebner hope – there could be an opportunity to put a more powerful and more user-specific user interface on top that leverages the  data to provide a really nice way of exploring Nobel prize information in some unforeseen ways. Another interesting concept would be to have an app that links the Nobel Prize data with other Linked Data sources, such as scientific journals that are releasing materials as Linked Data, so that connections could be made between prize winners and the articles that helped lead to their awards.

Regarding other potential apps that can be built on top of the repository, that was out of focus for this project, but “with Linked Data you always know you can take advantage of data in a lot of ways without having to think of use cases in advance,” says Ebner.


About the author

Jennifer Zaino is a New York-based freelance writer specializing in business and technology journalism. She has been an executive editor at leading technology publications, including InformationWeek, where she spearheaded an award-winning news section, and Network Computing, where she helped develop online content strategies including review exclusives and analyst reports. Her freelance credentials include being a regular contributor of original content to The Semantic Web Blog; acting as a contributing writer to RFID Journal; and serving as executive editor at the Smart Architect Smart Enterprise Exchange group. Her work also has appeared in publications and on web sites including EdTech (K-12 and Higher Ed), Ingram Micro Channel Advisor, The CMO Site, and Federal Computer Week.

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