9 February 2017
Data intensive science in the UK has received a major boost thanks to an investment of more than £1million to train the next generation of experts in this research area.
The constant advancement of computer technology has had a profound impact on science, making possible some of the most important discoveries in recent years. Thanks to increasingly powerful technology, researchers can gather, store and utilise vast amounts of data – but to make sense of this data, many more expert scientists are needed to help fill the current skills gap.
STFC is tackling this skills shortage by investing, for the first time, £1.3million in a Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in data-intensive science at University College London (UCL). The first cohort of students will join the centre in October and funding will be provided for 15 students over three years.
The STFC-funded students will undertake an original research project primarily based on working with large datasets in cutting-edge science, resulting in students gaining expertise in advanced data handling techniques.
STFC’s Executive Director of Programmes Professor Grahame Blair said:
“This funding reinforces the importance that STFC places on a strong community of research staff with expertise in data intensive science and on tapping this exceptional pool of talent for both frontier research and for interaction with industry. This investment will not only bring on the next generation of much-needed data scientists with the skills and knowledge to become leaders in the field, it will also in turn offer trained staff capable of supporting their research colleagues in developing a better understanding of the vast amounts of data they produce and in supplying the UK economy with the skills it vitally needs.”
“This support is crucial in ensuring the UK research sector and the UK economy remains competitive on the world stage.”
Some experimental facilities can produce mountains of data and sifting through that data manually could take weeks, or even years, and regular computer systems would be unable to cope. This is where the data scientists come in.
Data-intensive science utilises supercomputers and other powerful processors to extract insights from huge datasets to make new discoveries. Being able to manipulate this powerful technology means data scientists can access, transfer and analyse reams of new information in comparatively no time at all.
Professors Nikos Konstantinidis and Ofer Lahav from UCL Physics and Astronomy department will be the co-directors of the CDT.
Professor Konstantinidis said "We are thrilled that UCL has been selected to host the STFC Centre for Doctoral Training in data intensive science. It is recognition of our world-leading reputation and leadership in particle physics and astronomy research, as well as our pioneering contributions in data science and the collaborative spirit across disciplines within our institution.
“We are fully committed to create a centre that will train the next generation of leaders in data science and act as a knowledge hub, aiding collaboration, both within and beyond the academic sector, which will accelerate the development and application of pioneering techniques across the entire field.”
This Centre will train the PhD students in how to harness oceans of data, rather than trying to search for a needle in a haystack – in particular focusing on addressing the data challenges presented by research in astronomy, nuclear and particle physics.
As well as being given practical training in complex data analysis, students will be required to complete six months in a work placement to gain extra expertise and a broader understanding of the wider uses of data intensive techniques beyond their own field of study.
Professor Lahav said: “It is remarkable that computer programmes developed for analysing astronomical and particle physics big data can be used to solve a much broader range of problems, from medical imaging to financial markets. The new STFC-supported centre will lead the way in this interdisciplinary research for doctoral training at UCL.”
Find out more about data intensive science.
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As well as funding education in data intensive science, STFC also has a long history of working in high performance computing.
Find out more about STFC’s Scientific Computing Department
Find out more about the Hartree Centre
STFC also provides funding for DiRAC II, the award-winning distributed supercomputing facility, which has five specially designed machines across the UK. DiRAC supports the particle physics, nuclear physics, astronomy and cosmology communities with its ability to perform highly complex modelling, simulation and theoretical calculations.
UCL was founded in 1826. We were the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to open up university education to those previously excluded from it, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. We are among the world's top universities, as reflected by performance in a range of international rankings and tables. UCL currently has over 38,000 students from 150 countries and over 12,000 staff. Our annual income is more than £1 billion.