Princeton's new research data environment offers security, collaboration

July 13, 2021

Led by a research team at Princeton University, the New Jersey Families Study examines the lives of young children using an innovative methodology: The researchers put video cameras inside families’ homes. 

The researchers recruited about 20 households who agreed to the unobtrusive cameras for two weeks. The project, which studies how families prepare their pre-school-aged children for school, promises to yield unprecedented insight into the lives of families with young children.

The hundreds of hours of footage also pose a formidable privacy challenge. "We have promised the families that these videos will not get leaked anywhere under any circumstances," says Boriana Pratt, a statistical programmer at the Office of Population Research and the study's Data Manager. "We take that very seriously."

The New Jersey Families Study is one of many research projects at Princeton handling sensitive data. Other projects have information about people's finances, political attitudes, health, and genetic information. With these datasets come tough questions – and tightening regulations – about how to store and manage it safely.  

Enter Citadel, Princeton's new secure and compliant research data infrastructure environment introduced this year by Princeton Research Computing, a consortium spearheaded by the Princeton Institute for Computational Science and Engineering and OIT Research Computing. Citadel enables researchers from anywhere in the world to handle sensitive data while taking strict measures to prevent unauthorized access. Currently, six projects at Princeton are using the Citadel environment.