About IGSN

The application and long-term utility of sample­ based data are critically dependent on the availability of information (metadata) about the samples, links to other data sets derived from individual samples, and access to the samples themselves. Major problems for achieving this include incomplete documentation of samples in publications, use of ambiguous sample names, and the lack of web-accessible catalogues that allow finding out about existing samples and their archiving location. Using persistent identifiers for physical samples, such as the International Generic Sample Number (IGSN), provides solutions.

The IGSN ID is a globally unique, persistent, domain-agnostic identifier for material samples. Samples can be any material from anywhere in the universe, not only from Earth. Even though IGSN had its roots in geosciences, it really is now for all sample types from all disciplines.

Benefits of using IGSN IDs

IGSNs create an efficient way to manage research samples, making it easier for researchers to keep track of them and ensuring they can be located when needed. When an IGSN is assigned to a sample, the sample can be tracked and traced from that moment until the sample is analysed and the research is published. Efficient management continues after that, enabling further research on the sample.

The application and long-term utility of sample-based data are critically dependent on:

    access to the samples themselves.

Major problems for achieving this include incomplete documentation of samples in publications, the use of ambiguous sample names, and the lack of a central catalogue that allows finding a sample’s archiving location.

Reuse of samples and specimens can also be problematic. Many samples are hidden away in archives, particularly samples held in archives following old studies. It can be difficult to get access to databases with information about the samples.

There is a problem in research that seeks to make use of old samples because, even if you can get access to it, the metadata is in inconsistent formats and is difficult to join up with metadata from other collections.

IGSNs can help with this problem because the metadata is findable and available, and consistently formatted.

IGSNs make it easier for researchers and collection managers to make samples available to others. Not all researchers are comfortable with sharing data, but it becomes important at the nexus of the big challenges facing humanity and unique samples that can never be taken again. It is also important for the reproducibility of research. When a sample has an IGSN, it can be easily linked to other samples and collections, making it easier for reuse and collaboration.

By using IGSNs, researchers can increase the visibility of their samples and research. When samples are assigned IGSNs, they become part of a global database, which means that they can be easily discovered by others. This can lead to increased citations and recognition for the researcher, as well as increased opportunities for collaboration and funding.

IGSNs help to standardise the way in which samples are identified, described, and tracked, which helps with interoperability across systems.

The use of persistent identifiers in digital data systems allows building linkages between the digital representation of samples (sample profiles) in community-governed portals and their related data in the literature and in web­ accessible digital data repositories. This enables a web of interlinked metadata, creating a full and descriptive picture from contextual metadata.

IGSNs as the basis for FAIR

FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable) provides a basis for thinking about managing research data, including physical samples, and IGSNs can play a significant role. IGSNs can support the FAIR principles as follows:


IGSN is a registered trademark  (EU IPO No. No 018134664). Its use has been licensed to DataCite under the IGSN DataCite Partnership.