About KU Informatics
The KU Informatics Division is a cross-disciplinary biology and software engineering group. As a “software operation” embedded within a biological museum, we conceptualize, design, and implement software for analysis of the data associated with biological specimens. The Division is internationally known as a center for the development and support of biodiversity research software.
Our cyberinfrastructure products and services include open source workstation and web-based software platfroms, big data computational algorithms, and web services for continental and global-scale analyses of the spatial and phylogenetic patterns of biological diversity.
Staff include Ph.D. environmental biologists and professional software developers who have strong competencies in research data modeling, science data processing, the design and implementation of open source platforms, data visualization, geospatial data integration, and recently with digital object architectures for biodiversity data exchange.
Currently, two efforts anchor Informatics’s research activities—the U.S. NSF-funded Lifemapper Project and the Specify Collections Consortium. Both initiatives include collaborating institutions and collateral projects. All of our work relates in various ways to handling the information that accompanies biological specimens—the what, where, when (and sometimes why) of the plant and animal samples that voucher and document native species ranges and biological diversity.
The Informatics Division was conceived in 1995, by Professor Leonard Krishtalka, now Director Emeritus of the Biodiversity Institute, who recognized the potential of “Biodiversity Informatics” as an emerging discipline that would engage biological collections with broader, more interdisciplinary research initiatives to address grand challenges in the environmental sciences. “Biodiversity Informatics” was the name of a fledgling field of study at that time but has since become the moniker of a vibrant research discipline that applies the concepts and the tools of computer science, software engineering, and data networking to create scalable and integrative computational methods for biodiversity research analyses. Drs. James Beach (UC Berkeley) and Julian Humphries (Cornell U.) were hired in 1996 to co-lead the Division.
Informatics received a boost in the early 2000s when renovation of 2,000 square feet of Dyche Hall created a state-of-the art laboratory and office facility with laboratory workspace for 15 researchers, a teleconference/meeting room, and hardware spaces. The renovation was underwritten by a generous grant from the Occidental Petroleum Charitable Foundation. Facility and computer hardware grants from U.S. NSF helped to provision the new space for research activities.
Over its 27-year life span, the Division has grown from two researchers to a staff of 10 that includes biologists, software architects and engineers, data managers, technical support specialists, and students. Division activities have been largely grant-funded through competitive and collaborative research awards. The unit has competed successfully for over $25 million in external grants from the U.S. NSF, NASA, USGS, and other sources.
The Division’s computational work harvests the unparalleled and monumental investment made by tens of thousands of field biologists around the world, who, for over 400 years, strived to discover and document the diversity of life on our planet. Our work pays homage to their intrepid and undaunted exploration of Earth’s wild places.