NIST launches its first data app challenge


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The National Institute of Standards and Technology generates a ton of research data on everything from identity management to electron physics and marine health. Now the agency is reaching out to the public for novel ways to present some of that data.

NIST launched its Reference Data Challenge Monday, calling for people to develop a mobile app that will help the agency’s data reach a larger community of users.

Heather Evans, a NIST policy analyst who is overseeing the challenge, said the agency is looking for ideas to creatively present this data.

“We know that a lot of the data sets cover a range of basic and fundamental information to super-applied, everyday engineering data,” Evans told FedScoop. “We don’t really have anything that we can give our stakeholders that want to view these websites on a mobile device.”

A first for NIST, the challenge is asking for submissions that use agency’s popular data sets, like those dedicated to physical constants, atomic weight and thermodynamics. Judges will select winners based on creativity, user experience and their ability to integrate multiple data sets into their app.

The winner will receive $30,000, with second place receiving $10,000 and third place receiving $5,000. Many federal government challenges in the past have served as a way to create technologies for various agencies, but NIST will not acquire the intellectual property behind the winning app.

“That doesn’t preclude things from happening the future, but this is just to stimulate innovation,” Evans said. “The idea is that the incentive is the cash prize. We hope that the visibility one could get by winning is something that makes this enticing.”

Beyond the challenge, Evans said she hopes events like this spur NIST to be more involved in opening up data sets as the agency looks to modernize the way in which it publishes its research.

“We want to build a new community of people who have this unique interface of being interested in developing and coding, and also speak a little bit to the types of data we have,” she said. “We don’t have an easy go-to community right now. I’m hoping to build that community and we can utilize that to help us solve other challenges.”

The challenge is open until Sept. 28.

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challenges, Commerce Department, Departments, Government IT News, Innovation, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)