Dr. Yen-Chang Lin, IAMS Assistant Research Specialist, received his Ph.D. at Fu-Jen Catholic University under the tutelage of Prof. T. K. Fang. After a postdoctoral fellowship with Prof. Yew Kam Ho at the IAMS, he joined the IAMS in March 2021. He leads the IAMS information technology department. We visited Dr. Lin to hear more about information technology challenges at the IAMS.
A: What are currently the main challenges?
Yen-Chang Lin (YCL): Because of the declining birthrate, the institute faces a shortage of human resources both in administration and research. In terms of research, it is difficult to recruit and cultivate research talents, resulting in insufficient research energy and skill gaps. The main challenges, I think, are to introduce automated processes to perform cumbersome and repetitive processes in experiments, let computers do the work for others, allow human resources to be used in research analysis, and reduce an experiment’s uncertainty. In addition to the automation of research, automation will also benefit administration. The automation of the system will also allow researchers to reduce their time on administrative tasks and focus more on research.
A: What are the main goals of assisting the laboratory?
YCL: Because each laboratory is the most advanced and unique in terms of basic research, the required analysis methods and experimental equipment control needs are all unique. However, the biggest issue is the integration of technology between software and hardware in terms of automation, which requires a foundation of programming language and hardware knowledge. Only with specific knowledge and ability for physical equipment can the hardware and software cooperate seamlessly. These technologies can be developed by a laboratory itself if it has sufficient human resources. Still, under the current situation, recruited research human resources are becoming more and more scarce. When a laboratory maintains these technologies on its own, workforce gaps may be encountered in the future. In this regard, it is planned that a laboratory will jointly establish a technical database to be more appropriately preserved and developed. It can also increase technical exchanges between laboratories. In the current epidemic, laboratories have also had to solve problems associated with working from home. Knowledge of how to operate remotely and experiment correctly is thus essential. Another challenge in terms of data processing is that the amount of data collected by various instruments in modern laboratories is even more significant, and unique analysis software needs to be developed to achieve real-time, rapid, and standardized processing. Another critical topic is human–machine interface design. A human–machine interface is a bridge between humans and computers. A clear and concise interface will help users operate an instrument correctly and reduce errors. The final problem concerns information security. Due to difficulties in updating experimental equipment and hardware, loopholes in terms of information security can develop, allowing equipment to be invaded. Thus, data loss or equipment damage can occur.
A: In addition to laboratory automation, what else can assist in research in terms of information technology?
YCL: Dr. Ni has been researching sugar mass spectrometry for many years, and his accumulated data will be available for other researchers working on spectrometry. In this regard, building a research database website will help more researchers. Such a website can feature unique calculation methods to analyze the uploaded mass spectrum data. By using such a website, we can communicate with and better understand users around the world, allowing a fuller understanding of research direction and the promotion of academic cooperation.
A: How to assist the research in administration?
YCL: In addition to research assistance, administrative support is also essential. Its goal is to allow researchers to spend less time on administrative tasks and concentrate on academic research. Therefore, our office is also looking into electronic administration of the organizational system, including procurement, work, and personnel. In addition, we are currently developing a newcomer registration system so that newcomers can receive the safety training required by the laboratory when they arrive. These systems will also assist PIs to manage their group members more easily. Another issue is that the network environment is becoming more and more critical. Therefore, we will continue to improve the primary network in the future, hoping to create a faster, more convenient, and secure network environment.