IGSN: a persistent identifier for physical samples

Adrian Burton1, Jens Klump2, Lesley Wyborn3, Gerry Ryder4

1Australian Research Data Commons, Canberra, Australia, adrian.burton@ardc.edu.au

2CSIRO Mineral Resources, Perth, Australia, jens.klump@csiro.au

3National Computational Infrastructure, Canberra, Australia, lesley.wyborn@anu.edu.au

4Australian Research Data Commons, Adelaide, Australia, gerry.ryder@ardc.edu.au



The International Geo Sample Number (IGSN) is designed to provide an unambiguous globally unique persistent identifier for physical samples.  It facilitates the location, identification, and citation of physical samples used in research.  While applicable to any type of physical sample, impetus for the IGSN has come largely from the earth science community where IGSN are assigned to geologic and environmental samples such as rocks, drill cores, soils, water and gas as well as related sampling features such as sections, dredges, wells and drill holes.

The IGSN system is underpinned by the Handle System and is governed by an international organisation, the IGSN Implementation Organization e.V.


There are numerous examples of the fundamental role persistent identifiers play in the global sharing of information, resources and objects.  The DOI is one widely known example, while others such as ORCID are rapidly gaining traction in the research community.

Assigning IGSN to samples:

  • facilitates the discovery, access, sharing and citation of samples
  • supports preservation and access of sample data
  • aids identification of samples in the literature
  • supports tracking of samples across laboratories and sample storage
  • advances the exchange of digital sample data among interoperable data systems, for example by enabling a sample to be linked to the:
    • data derived from it
    • literature where the sample and data are interpreted
    • curator or collector of the sample.


There are four agencies in Australia implementing IGSN.  All have taken up membership of IGSN e.V. to become IGSN allocating agents for identified stakeholder groups that collect or curate earth science samples for research.

  • Curtin University: allocating agent for Curtin University facilities, staff and HDR students
  • CSIRO: allocating agent for CSIRO facilities and staff
  • Geoscience Australia: allocating agent for Geoscience Australia facilities and staff, and those associated with State Geological Surveys
  • Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC): allocating agent for University staff and those working in publicly funded research organisations not covered above


The ARDC IGSN service was developed in collaboration with AuScope as a key component of the Geoscience Data Enhanced Virtual Laboratory (GeoDEVL) project.  Released in July 2018, the ARDC IGSN service currently:

Criteria for using the ARDC IGSN service:

  • six mandatory metadata elements required for IGSN registration must be provided at the time of registration. Providing additional descriptive metadata will increase the potential for discovery, reuse and citation of the registered sample
  • the sample being identified should be associated with an Australian research activity
  • IGSN identifiers should resolve to a metadata record describing the sample
  • the sample being identified, and associated metadata, should be curated through the research and sample lifecycle


While the scope of the ARDC IGSN service is currently limited to earth science samples, the ARDC is interested in working with other communities in order to extend the service for use with other physical sample types such as vegetation, archaeological and biological specimens.  It is anticipated that development work to extend the service will commence Q1 2019 and the ARDC welcomes enquiries from prospective users.

Worth noting is that IGSN e.V. recently secured a Sloan Foundation Grant to enable further development of IGSN technical infrastructure and governance.  The ARDC will have an active role in this project which represents a significant investment in future sustainability of the IGSN system.


Dr Adrian Burton is Director, Services with the Australian National Data Service

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