Physicists, Start Your Searches: INSPIRE Database Now Online

May 9, 2012

INSPIRE, the next generation of the iconic SPIRES particle-physics database, is now online and operational. It’s a collaboration among four major laboratories – CERN, DESY, Fermilab and SLAC – each with specific roles to play. 

For more than 40 years, physicists and researchers looking for literature in particle physics have relied on the SPIRES database developed at SLAC. The first database available on the World Wide Web and the first North American website, SPIRES provided all high-energy physics literature, both preprints and their final published versions, along with theses, reprints and conference proceedings. 

The overhaul that created INSPIRE is designed with the user in mind. It offers complete reference lists for recent papers, and the references give much greater detail. Users can run full-text searches and even search figure captions extracted from articles on arXiv, the well-known Internet repository of scientific literature. INSPIRE is interactive: Users can improve the database by verifying their own publications and correcting references as needed. And it’s faster at searching and displaying records. 

INSPIRE also takes advantage of social media. The Twitter feed and INSPIRE blog are a good way to follow what’s added as it happens, as well as pick up tips, such as this recent tweet: “Want to find something in LHC experiment notes? SPIRES doesn’t have those … Try INSPIRE for your search!” (More search tips are at For those items that don’t fit into 140 characters, the INSPIRE blog offers more detail.

The collaboration isn’t done yet. The team plans to enhance the database by adding personalized features such as paper claiming, which allows authors to gather all their papers into an author page. This helps avoid confusion in cases where, for instance, two John R. Smiths are writing papers in similar fields – or when a researcher changes his or her name.

They are continuing to gather historical content as well as expand the scope of research-related collections. The INSPIRE collaboration is also creating a technology platform that allows third-party developers to build new tools and provides a way to preserve data.

SLAC application programmers Joe Blaylock and Mike Sullivan work with a team of four people here who do programming or input data into the INSPIRE system. The group is in the process of hiring a new director, who will represent SLAC in directing the INSPIRE collaboration. 

“I am the last professional SPIRES programmer on Earth,” Sullivan said. “I’ve worked in the database language for most of my professional career, 26 years. And I am excited about the new project. I firmly believe it will be an improvement, and I’m looking forward to it.”

He added, with a laugh: “It’s hard to get dinosaurs to admit things like that.”

All four of the collaborating laboratories contribute to data curation and development, authority files and the migration of the SPIRES database into INSPIRE. The project is reaching out to find more collaborators among labs around the world.