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News announcement11 May 20202 min read

The IT expert helping researchers make sense of coronavirus data

New platform launched to explore and make sense of large open access datasets.

TIM OA can make data visualisations, like this one showing the global network of organisations working together on coronavirus research
TIM OA can make data visualisations, like this one showing the global network of organisations working together on coronavirus research
© EU 2020

Lockdown has not stopped Brussels native Olivier Eulaerts and his team from providing tools to help researchers during the coronavirus pandemic.

They have just launched TIM Open Access (TIM OA), a platform to explore and make sense of large open access datasets - like CORD-19, which has over 50,000 articles on coronavirus research and development.

Researchers and innovators are providing the scientific knowledge we need to beat this pandemic. But not all of them are expert text or data miners. TIM OA is there to help. We caught up with Olivier to find out more.

What does your research for the JRC usually entail? What’s a normal day like for you?

Our team helps policy makers cope with the large amount of data they have to use to design policies. We do this by developing IT tools for data analytics, adapted to specific datasets.

We also use our own tools to do technology anticipation and monitoring, to help us understand how future technologies will impact society.

On a normal day, I share my time between managing the team of IT developers and scientists that develops our tools, researching the best methods to detect new technologies and assess their impact, and dealing with all the administrative tasks associated with the TIM project.

How has that changed due to the coronavirus pandemic?

My team is spread between Brussels and Italy. Quite early in the crisis, and before lockdown started in Italy, our developers adapted our IT infrastructure to allow us to continue working. Thanks to that, we are able to function almost as normal. What really changed is the focus we now have on Covid-19.

We are helping other Commission departments to analyse data, producing analysis related to the crisis and developing specific IT systems that can help speed up the research on Covid-19 and facilitate decision-making. I would say that 75% of our activities today are related to the current crisis.

You’ve launched a TIM monitoring system specifically for coronavirus. How will it help fighting the pandemic?

Olivier continues work from home in Belgium
Olivier continues work from home in Belgium
© Olivier Eulaerts, 2020

The Allen Institute for AI, together with some partners, has made a dataset with more than 50,000 scientific articles available to the research community. They want to give researchers the possibility to mine this data to find patterns or new insights on Covid-19.

The problem is that specialists on viruses are not necessarily specialised in text mining. They might also just not have time to do it. So we decided to take the raw dataset, enrich it with text mining algorithms, and put it in an IT system that anyone can access to retrieve relevant articles and analyse the data in it.

By giving access to the CORD-19 dataset through our system, we hope that researchers can save time to focus more on what they do best – researching and finding solutions to problems. We’ll update TIM OA every week so that researchers have access to the latest data.

What has been the most interesting insight on coronavirus research and innovation that TIM has revealed so far?

The most striking fact is how fast the research community all around the world has shifted its research focus to the coronavirus. At the end of last year, there were only a handful of articles on it. By mid-April, there were more than 50,000.

This capacity of the scientific community to refocus its research agenda towards the current crisis is, of course, essential. But I also think it’s amazing to observe.

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TIM Open Access


Publication date
11 May 2020