How the UK established a thriving e-Science community
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Plans don’t come much more ambitious than the UK’s e-Science Programme. Started in 2001, the Programme brought together the UK’s research councils, and many millions of pounds of funding, with the aim of providing the UK with a world-leading e-Science infrastructure. To find out more, I talked to Malcolm Atkinson, UK e-Science envoy and Director of the e-Science Institute.
When asked how he would describe the e-Science Programme, Malcolm replies instantly ‘a spectacular success!’ There’s certainly plenty of evidence for this positive appraisal. The Programme’s work has led to more than thirty papers in Nature alone, and has even warranted a special edition of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Almost every research discipline, from archaeology to zoology, has benefitted from UK e-Science. These successes are well documented in the Programme’s e-Science Highlights magazine and by publications resulting from the institutions that the Programme has funded—such as the OMII-UK Newsletter.
To provide potential e-Scientists with the software and infrastructure they needed, the Programme set up OMII-UK and the NGS (National Grid Service). In addition to these material needs, it was realised that a thriving e-Science community would drive e-Science uptake. This insight led the Programme to fund twenty-five, nationally distributed e-Science centres that would, as Malcolm describes, ‘build up a skills base so that local researchers could get help working out how to use e-Science for their own problems’.
Each e-Science centre developed its own speciality, creating a diversity that represented researchers’ needs. Good communication with cutting-edge researchers was ensured by embedding the centres within Universities. The community is rapidly approaching sustainability, as many of the e-Science centres now fund themselves through research grants and industrial collaborations. We hear from three of the e-Science centres below, and we hope to hear from the others in future issues of this newsletter.
The goal of the e-Science Programme is to develop e-Science so that it will be viewed as simply another research tool. ‘It should be a matter of common sense that you would use e-Science methods whenever they’re suitable’ Malcolm explains ‘just as it’s common sense to use partial differential equations whenever they’re suitable’. This goal is within reach. Over the lifetime of the Programme, there has been a significant growth in e-Science uptake. This growth has not been limited to those disciplines that are typically associated with cutting-edge computing—it has also been seen within those disciplines that are not. In this newsletter alone, we have heard from geographers, choreographers and archaeologists.
Now entering its third phase, the e-Science Programme has increased e-Science uptake, produced a sustainable community and achieved many successes. It appears that the UK is en route to the world-leading e-Science infrastructure envisioned in 2001.
The North East Regional e-Science Centre
Since 2001, the North East Regional e-Science Centre (NEReSC) has won over £20M in funding from research councils, the EU, JISC and industry. This is a measure of the impact of the Centre on the region: computer scientists have been keen to address the challenges generated by e-Science, while application scientists have seized on the opportunities to dramatically advance their research. There has been one successful spin-out company (e-Therapeutics), and others are in the pipeline.
We work closely with the Regional Development Authority to roll out an e-Science infrastructure, so that the output of our research can benefit researchers and companies across the UK’s North East.
Paul Watson, Director NEReSC.
The e-Science North-West centre
The e-Science North-West centre (ESNW) has a strength in biomedical applications: having forged collaborations with the Northwest Institute for BioHealth Informatics and the North-West Grid. ESNW is noted for its work on Semantic Grid and the Taverna workbench, and for contributions to the NGS. It provides the software-engineering expertise behind major awards won via collaborations on transatlantic Grids. ESNW has also been funded by the University of Manchester to create a hub-and-spoke model for a Virtual Campus using AccessGrid technology.
ESNW works with OMII-UK, the National Centre for Text Mining and NCeSS, which all have major hubs in Manchester.
John Brooke, Co-Director ESNW.
The Oxford e-Research Centre
The Oxford e-Research Centre (OeRC) has been instrumental in the development of an e-Research programme within Oxford University. OeRC collaborates with a number of departments and research groups, and has attracted significant investment from industry. The OeRC also builds and supports campus-based research infrastructure, including the Oxford Supercomputing Centre. It has played a significant role in the development of infrastructures, including the NGS, and the use of international lambda networks for materials science research. The OeRC, together with collaborators, launched e-Research South to enable biomedical, climate and archaeological research.
Anne Trefethen, Director OeRC.