Science Leadership Conference

It's time for psychologists to take advantage of the computer technology that other scientists have been using for years-technology that will allow researchers to collect and analyze data on an unprecedented scale. That's the message Bennett Bertenthal, PhD, gave attendees at a Science Leadership Conference session on infrastructure for the science of psychology.

Bertenthal, a professor of psychology and computational neuroscience at the University of Chicago, is heading a National Science Foundation-funded project to develop a computer network called the Social Informatics Data (SID) Grid. The network will allow researchers to store and analyze real-time behavioral data from video, audio and electrophysiological sources.

"This may sound like Greek today," Bertenthal told the audience, "but we're hoping to demystify it. It's been very useful in other sciences like bioinformatics and physics."

Bertenthal is collaborating with psychologists and computer scientists from the University of Illinois-Chicago and the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory. Eventually, Bertenthal said, researchers connected to the grid will be able to store their own data there, access its huge databases and harness its computing power to analyze those data.

"One of our main thrusts is to provide opportunities for collaboration," he explained. "People will share data, and also combine expertise."

Concurrent with the SID Grid project, psychologist Steven Porges, PhD, of the University of Illinois-Chicago, will head the development of a new, 30,000 square foot "SuperLab." The lab will house tools to collect data like multicamera video, multichannel audio, eye movements, body movements, electrophysiological measures like electroencephalogram and heart rate, and others-all of which will eventually be stored, synchronized and analyzed via the grid.

"We're not developing this lab for one researcher," Porges told conference attendees. Instead, he sees many behavioral scientists sharing it, the same way that astronomers share time on high-power telescopes.

Also at the session, University of California, Irvine, psychology professor James Swanson, PhD, discussed his work with the upcoming National Children's Study. The study will follow 100,000 children from birth through age 21, and will examine how factors such as genetics, the physical environment, chemical exposures and behavioral factors influence children's health and development.

Swanson is leading a research team at one of the study's eight pilot sites. Each research team expects to knock on about 7,500 doors to eventually find a sample of 1,000 children to follow. Over the next several years, the study organizers will add nearly 100 more research sites.

Data from the study, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will be available to outside researchers almost immediately after collection, Swanson said.

"This study is remarkable in size, and we hope that the science will match up with the size," he said.

-L. Winerman