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North Europe associate team


Lille and Oxford: double the expertise to manage data

© Inria / Valérie Sultana

Since September 2013, the Links research team (a joint team with Université Lille1 and Université Lille 3*) based at Inria Lille - Nord Europe Research Center and the Department of Computer Science's Database Group at Oxford University have been actively working together within the framework of an associate team dubbed Integrated Linked Data. It has been an adventure in terms of science and human relations.

There's strength in numbers… and research too. This new working of the old adage is perfect for the associate team, Integrated Linked Data, which boasts the combined talent of Inria's Links research team and Oxford University's Database Group. The two teams are currently working on web-based information management, focusing primarily on designing tools to collect, explore and link together different sources of information.

Fast track to collaboration

In light of their common research interests, there were already very strong links between the members of the two teams, particularly between Joachim Niehren and Angela Bonifati in Lille, and Michael Benedikt and Georg Gottlob in Oxford. Pierre Bourhis, currently conducting research at CNRS as part of the Links team, did his PhD at Inria before taking up a post-doctoral contract at the University of Oxford. So it came as little surprise that he would apply for the position of project leader for the associate team, resulting in new synergy between the two groups.

The Links team is especially focused on developing tools for manipulating trees and querying graphs. The Oxford-based group is working on database extraction and querying via web services, compressing responses to search queries and defining semantic links between different sources. "Our research challenges the concepts that govern data accessible on the web, " explained Joachim Niehren, Head of the Links team. "Web-based data are not just textual, they are structured like Google's Knowledge Graph and can therefore be efficiently processed by computers. Nonetheless, there are still major obstacles, data are stored in very different ways which makes having a common tool for all data sources more complicated. Accessing data is also very complex, for example, via forms or web services. This is a vast field being tackled by many scientists, not just the teams in Lille and Oxford. "

Positive results

Two years since its launch, the Integrated Linked Data associate team has proven to be a success both in scientific and in personal terms. Last summer, at the 24th International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI), the results obtained through this collaboration resulted in publication of a Distinguished Paper on optimizing queries for recursive languages. The researchers also held a workshop, leading to discussions with other researchers, especially the Oxford University group specializing in artificial intelligence.

The geographical proximity of the two teams has undoubtedly been a factor in the success of this scientific adventure, which comes to end in December. The researchers in the Links team have made regular trips to Oxford over the last two years, and Professor Benedikt came to Lille for a joint seminar, Colloquium Polaris, at which he presented his research. "It is vital for researchers to meet in real life and work together, in front of the same blackboard. You don't interact in the same ways when you only communicate from a distance, " Pierre Bourhis told us. "That is why associate teams across Europe work so well. "

To be continued…

Lying at the crossroads of Europe, less than an hour and half away from London, Brussels and Paris, Lille is an ideal environment for researchers to set up such collaborative research structures. An associate team is easy to create and is an incredibly practical tool for promoting interaction between scientists, which is why they are now an integral part of Inria Lille – Nord Europe Research Center's European development strategy. "I hope I will have the chance to do this again in the next few years, depending on the opportunities and projects that arise ," added Pierre Bourhis. "Especially since many of my current research projects have come about thanks to this program. "

Far from being over, collaboration between the two teams is set to continue over the coming years. "We have several projects in progress, which we will continue working on together ," announced Pierre Bourhis. "Obviously, we do need to organize funding for travel. Apart from these constraints, one thing is sure, we have forged strong links between us, both personally and professionally. "

* joint team with CNRS, Université Lille 1 and Université Lille 3

Keywords: Data Oxford Database Group Associate teams Integrated Linked Data Links team