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Release: May 4, 2000

UI professor wins NIH grant to improve database search algorithms

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Padmini Srinivasan, director of the University of Iowa School of Library and Information Science, has received a two-year, $178,000 research grant from the National Institutes of Health to design methods to improve searching on medical databases.

Her study will focus on the Unified Medical Language System (UMLS), a meta-thesaurus with about 1.5 million words and phrases that was built by combining more than 50 health care related vocabularies. She wants to create a way to automatically select appropriate terms based on user queries for searching medical databases. This will help to alleviate problems caused by a user's query not matching exactly the terms in the medical documents. It also improves results because the search is conducted at a more semantic level.

The project titled "The UMLS for Text Retrieval -– A Rough Set Approach" will allow exploration of various term selection strategies derived from the mathematical theory of rough sets. The theory of rough sets is one that allows descriptions of collections of objects in an approximate or "rough" way by considering a set of relevant features. Experimental work will determine the relative effectiveness of these methods. One end result will be the design of an interface for searching databases such as MEDLINE.

Srinivasan joined the university as an assistant professor in 1989 and holds a joint appointment in library and information science and management sciences. Her research interests are in information filtering, the design of question answering systems, formal models for information retrieval and health informatics. She is on the board of scientific counselors of the Lister Hill Research Center, National Library of Medicine as well as on the editorial board of the Journal of the American Society for Information Science.