Welcome to VUB STARLab
STARLab's research is situated within the domain of Information Systems, with particular focus on semantics and their deployment on the internet. In contrast to software systems in general, the emphasis within the field of Information Systems lies on data rather than on the programming. Whether in IT industry, practice or research, already for a long time developers, researchers and users alike are fully aware of the central importance of information and data. In 1981, GoldStein and Papert expressed this succinctly thus: "the fundamental problem for future intelligent software systems would not be the identification of a few powerful techniques, but rather the question of how to represent large amounts of knowledge in a fashion that permits their effective use and interaction".
We focus among other things on specific problems of integrating new technologies within existing infrastructures, and the resulting issues which constrain every real-life IT project. For instance, there are literally millions of so called "legacy databases", often designed and developed with passé technology, but which may contain very precious data resp. possess valuable but undocumented data models that could benefit new applications (e.g. through data resp. ontology mining). In order to achieve a productive symbiosis, the semantics of such existing information must therefore be extracted again (reverse engineered).
STARLab is active in the following research domains: methodological design of information systems, text retrieval and text enrichment, digital libraries, web-based applications, integration and cooperation between several Information systems. The common "red thread" through most of our research efforts is formed by the study of database semantics and its most concrete manifestation, ontologies. This latter concept currently receives prime attention in our DOGMA initiative (Developing Ontology-Grounded Methods and Applications) where various theories, methods and tools for extracting, representing, storing, browsing and using ontologies are being studied and developed. Besides performing purely academic research STARLab also cooperates with industrial partners in a number of national and European projects, which in appropriate cases also try to involve the end-user in all phases of development. STARLab also teaches various courses and organises apprenticeships where students are introduced with our state-of-the-art methods, and even are sometimes involved in real-world experiments.
The involvement of the non-computer scientist domain expert is one of the biggest challenges of today's computer science, and has become the kernel factor within STARLab. These domain experts are often not very familiar with formal techniques; so we must investigate methods that make those formal techniques more accessible. Therefore, we look at computer linguistics, since natural language represents a universal communication medium that supports meaning negotiation between information analysts and domain experts, and at computer-based learning equipment, and more generally look at tools that more deeply support the underlying cognitive communication process of co-operative intelligent agents (e.g. Groupware, CSCW, computer-supported co- operative work). Multimedia systems can achieve a fundamental link here. The thread running through all of this is a higher level of knowledge representation and the theory, techniques and methods needed for it. Because of the domains under study and the demand of applicability, STARLab research is partly of an experimental nature, which translates in specific equipment and infrastructure. Nevertheless there is also an important and emphatic fundamental theoretical component in this research, e.g. in connection with the representation of semantics of information as needed for mutual communication between information systems.