Get stuck into big data and computing

Visualisation suite at the Daresbury Laboratory(Credit: STFC)
(Credit: STFC)

Real data online

You can be involved in some of the largest computing and data analysis projects in the world. By using spare processing capacity on your computer, you can run simulations and analyse data to help scientists working on some of the biggest experiments ever created. These distributed computing projects create ‘virtual supercomputers’ to help answer some of the biggest and most exciting questions facing the world today.

The LHC@home project allows you to run simulations of particle collisions and beam dynamics at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, helping to understand the fundamental building blocks of the world around us. is the world’s largest climate modelling experiment. Taking part in it helps scientists at the University of Oxford answer questions about how climate change is affecting our world.

SETI@home uses volunteers’ computers to search for narrow bandwidth radio signals from space, looking for signs of extraterrestrial life.

Activities to try at home

There are many different ways you can get started with computing, and many activities and challenges you can try at home.

The Hour of Code is a great introduction to the world of coding – in an hour you can learn to create simple mazes and games for yourself.

Codecademy has a wide range of free, online courses that will introduce you to a range of different programming languages.

Arduinos are microcontrollers – small devices which control circuits, which you can use them to create your own projects. For instance, you can create a car which follows a torch, or a light-controlled theremin. The arduino webpage has lots of great ideas for getting started, and some more challenging projects as well.

Raspberry pis are cheap, simple computers the size of credit-cards, which you can use to program and interact with the outside world. There’s a large online community where you can get help and ideas for how to work with raspberry pis.

Join in

More and more code clubs are springing up all around the country, and it’s easy to join the fun! If you’re looking for a coding club near you take a look at coderdojo, who coordinate free volunteer-run coding clubs all over the world. For the latest ideas and developments for arduinos try their twitter page.

Computer Science for Fun is an online magazine with news and ideas about computer science.

You can also follow the progress of some of the most exciting scientific projects involving big data – GridPP is an organisation of particle physicists and computer scientists to help run computing for the Large Hadron Collider in the UK. You can find the latest news at their twitter feed.

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is going to be the world’s largest radio telescope, built across South Africa and Australia, to study the furthest reaches of our universe. The SKA will generate so much data that we will have to stretch computing technology to its limits – it will need about a trillion times more computing power than was used to send people to the moon. All of the news and updates about the SKA can be found here.


Young Rewired State is again running the Festival of Code in 2015, from 27 July 2015 to 2 August 2015. Centres all around the county – including STFC’s National Laboratories in Oxfordshire and Cheshire (YRS) – will be welcoming coders who are 18 years or younger to create code or apps that use open data to make something new and exciting. YRS are also running YRS Hyperlocal – coding clubs that run throughout the year – at centres around the country.

The Ada Lovelace Day is a national celebration of the achievements of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – and computing! It takes place in October each year, and is named after Ada Lovelace, who wrote and published the first computer algorithm. Events take place around the country, and STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory will be celebrating with the Ada Lovelace Challenge, a special event for Year 8 school students.

Coding clubs are run in schools and other centres all around the world – one good way of finding a code club near you is to look at Coderdojo, who coordinate free, volunteer-led clubs for under 18s.

Open Online Courses

Various universities offer online course if you would like to learn more about computing:

What else is out there

The world of computing and big data is constantly changing and evolving as we develop new techniques and technologies. You can find out more here:

The history of computing is fascinating as well, whether it’s looking at the ancient Antikythera mechanism, Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine, Ada Lovelace’s first computer program, Alan Turing’s work during WWII or Margaret Hamilton’s hand-written computer code that helped the Apollo astronauts reach the moon. The National Museum of Computing has some interesting resources these and many other developments.

STFC’s National Labs have a long history of computing as well – there’s more information here:

Science and Technology Facilities Council Switchboard: 01793 442000