Creating the next generation of the Internet

Growing up, Dr. Tom Narock wanted to be an astronaut. But after getting his bachelor’s degree in astronomy, his master’s in physics and working as a NASA researcher, Narock – who also holds a doctorate in Information Science – is helping explore an entirely different realm: the world’s oceans.

Working with researchers at places like Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, Narock and other computer scientists from around the country are developing a smarter academic search engine and creating the next generation of the Internet.

“It’s a pretty big step forward,” said the Marymount assistant professor of information technology.

Last fall he was awarded a $144,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to collaborate with other universities, institutions and nonprofits to explore ‘the Semantic Web,’ a set of new technologies and methods that enable computers to reason and understand how data are related. In 2013, he helped create a prototype search engine called OceanLink.

“We’re taking emerging technology and providing real world applications,” Narock said.

The group’s current project is called GeoLink and includes ecological and other data that compliments the ocean data. In December, its work was featured in the journal “Science,” which quoted a Woods Hole oceanographer who was writing a paper about his study of Red Sea plankton. The scientist knew data from other studies in the region existed but compared finding that to searching a black hole.

“Projects like GeoLink are part of a growing effort by the scientific community to make literature reviews more efficient by leveraging the increasing ability of computers to process texts – a much-needed service as millions of new papers come out every year,” the journal reported.

It helps that Narock has a background in both geoscience and information technology.

“My experience allows me to talk to both communities,” he said, laughing. “Very often the two groups seem to speak different languages.”

The project also allows him to share real life applications with his students. Narock, who joined the Marymount faculty in 2014, teaches a variety of courses, including Web development, mobile app development, and data science. In addition, two Marymount undergraduates and a graduate student are doing research with him on GeoLink.

Narock received his Bachelor of Science from the University of Maryland, his Master of Science from Johns Hopkins University and his doctorate from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

“I always loved math and science,” he said. “Combining that with information technology has really worked out well for me.”

Photo Caption: Dr. Tom Narock