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UNC-system researchers now easily accessible online

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, the original version of this story incorrectly stated that $750,000 went toward a three-year compensation package for Sharlini Sankaran, executive director of REACH NC. This money will cover not only her salary, but also salary for a data manager, as well as some equipment and related data visualization costs. The story also stated that Wake Forest University researchers are to be profiled in REACH NC, but the university has not committed at this time. The story also incorrectly said the internal funds were from N.C. General Assembly. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the errors.

The public now has an easier way to find researchers in any field, including their work and professional connections.

REACH NC — a website that acts as a gateway to researchers, their work, grants they’ve earned and people they’ve worked with — is announcing the addition of 13 UNC-system campuses to the site.

Before this year, only experts from UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University were on the website.

The site was expected to host profiles for all UNC-system researchers by the summer of 2011, but technical difficulties caused delays.

REACH NC received a total of $2 million in funding to move the project forward in the past year, said Courtney Thornton, research director for the UNC-system General Administration.

About $750,000 went toward a three-year compensation package for Sharlini Sankaran, executive director of REACH NC, and towards salary for a data manager as well as some equipment and related data visualization costs. The rest of the $2 million, provided by various grants and internal funds from the N.C. General Assembly, went toward adding more UNC campuses to the website.

UNC School of the Arts and the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics are the only UNC-system schools to not have at least some of their faculty on the website.

But Thornton said both schools will eventually be brought on board, as well as Duke University and Wake Forest University.

REACH NC is a way for people to easily find experts in any field. It features “expert profiles” for each individual, which show publications by the researcher, the courses he or she has taught, and a list of similar experts.

The profile also shows a visualization of the researcher’s connections to other experts in their research network.

The majority of online profiles are in scientific fields because the research can be easily pulled and displayed. Eventually, REACH NC will also include disciplines from the humanities and the arts. The only problem, Thornton said, is working out how to best display the expertise of those faculty.

REACH NC has its roots in a program Andy Johns, associate vice chancellor for research at UNC-CH, started for UNC-CH’s biomedical researchers about four years ago.

“What is now REACH NC began with this basic concept that the university has lots of faculty that have lots of expertise … but universities are pretty heavily criticized for not being as transparent,” Johns said.

REACH NC officially got its start in late 2009 when Johns submitted a proposal to the UNC-system General Administration requesting funding to expand his project to include other disciplines and bring N.C. State on board.

The funding was approved, and REACH NC has since added more than 5,000 expert profiles to its website, Johns said.

In the next month or two, REACH NC will also include grant data and more course information, said Sankaran.

“Nothing of this magnitude has been done before. There are other similar tools out there … but all of those have either been in similar disciplines or within one university,” she said.

“The difference with REACH NC is that this is the first time we’ve gone across 15 institutions and across different disciplines to capture this expertise.”

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