A new generation of information and communication infrastructures, including advanced Internet computing and Grid technologies, promises to enable more direct and shared access to more widely distributed computing resources than was previously possible. Scientific and technological collaboration, consequently, is more and more coming to be seen as critically dependent upon effective access to, and sharing of digital research data, and of the information tools that facilitate data being structured for efficient storage, search, retrieval, display and higher level analysis. Emerging programmatic visions of this genre reflect an expectation that solving the technical engineering problems associated with the advanced hardware and software systems of the cyberinfrastructure will yield revolutionary payoffs by empowering individual researchers and increasing the scale, scope and flexibility of collective research enterprises. Thus, the U.S. NSF Directorate has committed itself in 2005 toa major research funding initiative designed to implement key elements of its “Cyberinfrastructure Vision for 21st Century Discovery”. These investments are aimed at the enhancement of computer and network technologies, and the training of researchers to enable the formation of ‘virtual organizations’ for global research collaboration. Animated by much the same view, the UK e-Science Core Programme has preceded the NSF effort in funding development of an array of open standards middleware platforms, intended to support Grid enabled science and engineering research.
This proceeds from the sceptical view that engineering breakthroughs alone will not be enough to achieve the outcomes envisaged for these undertakings. Success in realizing the potential of e-Science—through the collaborative activities supported by the "cyberinfrastructure," if it is to be achieved, will be the resultant of a nexus of interrelated social, legaland technical transformations.