International Initiative to Make Sample Registration Easy and Open on a Global Scale

A new grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation will support an international initiative, led by Kerstin Lehnert (Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, USA), to establish an international cross-disciplinary system for the registration and globally unique identification of physical samples used in scientific research.

In a new initiative funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, DCO colleague Kerstin Lehnert (Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, USA) will lead an effort to grow the International Geo Sample Number (IGSN), a sample identification system developed by Lehnert and colleagues, to overcome data management problems in the geosciences. Lehnert also serves as President of the IGSN e.V., which fulfils an essential role advancing open and transparent science by making samples discoverable and accessible on the Internet so that measurements can be repeated and validated.

 “Nearly two decades ago, I was compiling geochemical measurements of volcanic rock samples into the PetDB database,” she said. “It was often very difficult, if not impossible, to attribute the data published in a scientific article to a specific sample because the same sample name was used for different specimens or had changed through the course of the sample’s lifetime, and relevant sample metadata were missing in the papers. This experience motivated me to create a mechanism to uniquely identify a sample and link to a description of the sample that resides in a persistent, online accessible catalog. Thus, the IGSN was born.”

IGSN diamonds
Diamond samples with IGSN labels, from the Deep Carbon Observatory’s Diamonds and Mantle Geodynamics of Carbon initiative. Credit: Kerstin Lehnert

Member organizations, including several national geological surveys, data service providers, and funding agencies in the US, Europe, and Australia, are using IGSN protocols to organize geological samples. The new project will extend IGSN into other scientific disciplines to catalog physical samples more generally. 

To adequately accommodate the anticipated diversity of sample types from other scientific disciplines, as well as the increasing volume of registered samples, many technical aspects of the IGSN system such as metadata schema, and categorization schemes need to be revised. The funding from the Sloan Foundation will support a series of workshops where international experts from the US, UK, France, Australia, Japan, and South Africa will come together to redesign the IGSN system and improve its management to allow for its implementation across disciplines and around the globe. 

 “Dr. Lehnert and her team have built a powerful, intuitive system that has the potential to transform the way researchers discover, share, and refer to samples across dozens of scientific disciplines,” said Joshua M. Greenberg, Program Director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “The Sloan Foundation is excited to be able to support the IGSN at this pivotal moment in its development.” 
More information about the IGSN can be found at the IGSN web site ( and on GitHub (

Article adapted from source.

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