An Introduction to Managing Physical Samples in the Digital Era: Next Steps for the CODATA Task Group

Authors: Colleen Strawhacker

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Conference paper


The chair of the session, Strawhacker, will introduce the session, speakers, and topics that will be addressed. After a number of lightning talks that address a variety of topics dealing with physical samples (ranging from ethics and Indigenous communities to catalog interoperability), Strawhacker will summarize the papers and themes and then will proceed to guide discussion between panelists and the audience. The discussion will be aimed at defining next steps for the CODATA Task Group, including defining priorities, tasks, and foci over the coming year, based on feedback from the panel and the audience.

Overview of Topics

Lightning talks will be provided by a number of members, including leaders of the CODATA Task Group on the Management of Physical Objects in the Digital Era. These lightning talks will focus on a number of themes, including, (1) inconsistent practices related to physical sample management and curation, (2) catalog interoperability, (3) ethical and legal issues surrounding curation, (4) ownership and access to Indigenous and archaeological artifacts, (5) differing international, federal, and state laws dictating sample curation and ownership, and (6) unclear or lacking standards for universal unique identifiers for objects and mechanisms to connect these to related digitized data.

While touching on these themes, these lightning talks will also provide an excellent overview for ongoing efforts in the field of managing physical samples and analyze any gaps and opportunities that can be capitalized on in the coming year for the task group. This session is designed to spark conversation to develop harmonized approaches and best practices for physical object identification and ethical curation of those objects. With improved linkages between object repositories and museums, digital data repositories, scientific publications, and members of the scientific communities, physical samples will be more accessible for continued scientific insight.

Discussion Questions and Moving Forward

After the series of lightning talks, the panel will convene, and Strawhacker will guide discussion between the panelists and the audience. This session is designed to brainstorm ideas on how to move this CODATA task group forward, so the main crux of the discussion will be a variety of guiding questions at a broad level, including, (1) What will be the priorities and outcomes of the CODATA task group on Management of Physical Objects in the Digital Era? and (2) What opportunities would be best for the CODATA task group to take advantage of in the coming year to ensure success?

A special focus of of the lightning talks has been placed on samples that are associated with Indigenous communities and archaeological sites across the world and samples from research done by social scientists. These samples are quite a bit different from samples produced and collected by the physical sciences. Questions around this specific topic will include: Should these samples be treated differently? What are the ethics involved in working with those samples? What are the special considerations of samples that are associated with human subjects?

This discussion will be summarized and provided as a brief report to the Task Group in late Fall to guide directions and tasks over the coming year.


The author would like to thank all session participants for submitting abstracts and providing lightning talks.

Competing Interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.