SILS Professor Rob Capra receives NSF award to develop better systems to support complex online searches

January 14, 2016

The project will test novel techniques to capture, share and re-use knowledge from past searches to improve future search success.

Dr. Rob Capra, Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Information and Library Science (SILS), has received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award to support his research for the next five years on a project titled “Knowledge Representation and Re-Use for Exploratory and Collaborative Search.”

Currently available search engines work well when users are looking for information on specific topics, but do little to support more complex searches that extend across multiple sessions or involve more than one searcher. Capra’s project will develop and evaluate new techniques for capturing, saving, and re-using search information, enabling individuals and collaborators to more efficiently conduct exploratory searches, and providing valuable search assistance to future users.

“Instead of starting from scratch, people will be able to benefit from information saved by others who have completed similar searches,” Capra said. “A goal of this research is to develop search tools that will help people in both the discovery and understanding of information, going beyond what is offered by current search systems. We want to enable people to capture and share the knowledge they acquire during a search in a way that will support collaboration and re-use.”

Capra’s research will provide insights about users’ needs for exploratory searches and how systems can best support them. Throughout the project, research activities will be integrated with a cross-cutting educational plan that will include UNC-Chapel Hill undergraduate and graduate students engaged through research assistantships and course projects.

“We are delighted that Dr. Capra has won one of these prestigious five-year NSF grants,” said SILS Dean Gary Marchionini. “His work will lead to better support for human information needs that are complex and collaborative, and the project will become one of the centerpieces of SILS’ leadership in information seeking research.”

The outcomes of Capra’s project will not only benefit individual search engine users, but also provide much needed tools for collaborators in a broad range of science, engineering, and other professional settings.

“I’m excited about developing innovative search tools as part of this project, and especially motivated by the opportunities for this work to help people when they are searching for information about unfamiliar or complex topics,” Capra said.  “SILS has a strong history of work in this area and is a great place to be doing this type of research.  I’m very thankful for this opportunity.”