EarthCube Workshop: Geochronology Frontier at the Laboratory-Cyberinformatics Interface — October 21-23, 2020

Design, usage, and implementation of the Sparrow laboratory information management system in geochronology and geochemistry labs.

Virtual meeting (Cisco WebEx and Slack)

Wednesday, October 21, 2020     (talks)
Thursday-Friday, October 22-23
(breakouts + asynchronous)

Immediately preceding GSA 2020             Expression of interest form.

Data accessibility, reusability, and archiving are primary concerns in geochronology. Several standards-based facilities focused on digital data curation (notably, IGSN and were conceived to further these goals. Meanwhile, community-curated databases outside of geochronology (e.g. Paleobiology Database and Neotoma) seek robust age datasets to contexualize descriptions of other aspects of the Earth system. To enable wide reuse, archived geochronology data must carry both fully descriptive analytical data and a simplified, contextualized, and science-actionable interpreted result. Assembling a full description of a geochronology age often requires integrating lab-specific data files and published results, a time-consuming and largely manual process that cannot be feasibly scaled to the generative capabilities of modern labs. Purpose-built, lab-centered data management software and automated data-transfer interfaces can mitigate these challenges and reduce strain on origin labs, data repositories, and end-users of geochronology data while enabling new pathways for data reanalysis and reuse.

The NSF-supported EarthCube Geochronology project is building software to assist laboratories in managing analytical data products, curating metadata (e.g. sample geological context and publication information), and disseminating results to end-users and archival data facilities. This software infrastructure is anchored by Sparrow (,, an open-source, distributed laboratory information management system designed to support both geochemistry labs and community-curated databases. Sparrow’s out-of the-box features include:

These capabilities allow Sparrow to capture the output of a complex analytical pipeline, provide additional metadata management, and help satisfy data dissemination and reporting requirements (e.g., NSF data management requirements and “FAIR” practices). To date, Sparrow is implemented at U-Pb, Cosmogenic Nuclide, 40Ar/39Ar, (U+Th)/He, SIMS, and optically-stimulated luminescence facilities. We hope to support wide use within the geochronology and broader geochemistry community.

Workshop structure: The 3-day workshop will be held October 21-23rd, on a web conferencing platform and asynchronously, immediately preceding the GSA 2020 virtual meeting. Our goal is to bring together 40+ scientists from geochronology laboratories and end-user communities to gain information on Sparrow, provide feedback on its approach and sustainability, and get up and running with a basic instance.

Wednesday, October 21 — Talks: The first day will consist of talks (live and recorded) which will cover several topics:

Thursday-Friday, October 22-23 — Asynchronous workshop: The second and third days of the workshop will include a few preset breakout sessions focused on specific topics (e.g. installation and management, plugin/importer development, embargo policy, API design), as well as open discussion of the same issues on the Slack asynchronous platform. During the asynchronous workshop, Sparrow’s core technical team and scientists at implementing labs will be responsive to design and technical queries and feedback. Assistance will be provided for attendees to run a basic demo of Sparrow and prototype importers for their labs’ data formats. This extended asynchronous workshop will also provide a forum for the community to highlight complementary projects and plan connections between Sparrow and other infrastructure.

The virtual format will allow unrestricted participation in the workshop for geochronologists, geochemical lab scientists, and potential users of community geochronology data. Early-career researchers, in particular, are encouraged to participate. If you are interested in attending this virtual meeting, please submit your contact information on this Google Form; we will send logistical information by email as the workshop approaches. For questions about the meeting, contact Daven Quinn (

Support: NSF EAR-1740694

Principal Investigators:

Brad S. Singer         UW-Madison

Shanan Peters         UW-Madison

Shaun Marcott         UW-Madison

Jack Williams         UW-Madison

Stephen Meyers         UW-Madison

Simon Goring         UW-Madison

George Gehrels        U. Arizona

Jake Ross        NM Tech

Mark Schmitz         Boise State