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New multi-million-pound Environmental Science 'big data' centre given green light – University of Reading

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New multi-million-pound Environmental Science 'big data' centre given green light

Release Date 14 October 2014

A new multi-million-pound world-class environmental science ‘big data’ research and analysis centre has been given the green light to open at the University of Reading in 2015.

The cutting-edge centre will unlock huge, complex and growing environmental datasets and the latest computational modelling, satellite and earth observation research – turning them into commercially viable ideas.

The facility aims to bridge the gap between the UK’s world-leading researchers and decision-makers handling the biggest societal challenges facing the world – from dealing with declining global food security from climate change to predicting and mitigating the impact of extreme weather events on global finance.

The project has secured a £5.6m Catalyst Fund grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to pump-prime the project over the next five years. An additional £7.15m is being contributed from a powerful consortium of 13 partners, led by the University – which aims to leverage at least £20m of new investment by 2020.

It will be based at the University of Reading to exploit its position as the UK’s leading centre for environmental science, with the centre and first projects formally launched early in 2015. A Chief Executive and new team will be recruited over the coming months.

In additional to performing research and development, the centre will train a new generation of highly skilled environmental analysts to address the serious skills shortage within this sector. It will also support new business development through projects that will demonstrate how environmental data can generate growth and jobs. And it will actively promote the enormous potential of analytics to business leaders, entrepreneurs and policymakers.

It comes after the Government set out a detailed strategy to make the UK a world leader for both big data analysis and space observation.

University of Reading Vice-Chancellor Sir David Bell said:

“We’ve only just scraped the surface when it comes to the realising the potential of big data. There are staggering amounts of data being produced every day. Data underpins our economy, driving scientific discovery and growth – that’s why the UK needs to the research base to handle massive data volumes and be able to turn them into viable business concepts.

“We know that industry is often frustrated that they do not have access to the latest science, and all too often academics find they do not know how to commercialise the cutting-edge research they do. This new centre will address this innovation gap, unlocking the potential of the UK’s world-leading environmental science research base to drive innovation, economic growth and jobs. It will also build a cadre of highly-skilled analysts – with industrial experience, business nous and outstanding scientific expertise.

“The fact that the new centre will be based at Reading is a recognition of the University’s outstanding academic track record in this area. We have put together an outstanding consortium and are massively excited by the potential over the coming years.”

HEFCE’s Director for Research, Education and Knowledge Exchange David Sweeney said:

HEFCE investment through the Catalyst Fund, and significant contributions from the university and its partners, will enable this important research and analysis centre to be created. We look forward to seeing how the work of the centre will prepare highly-skilled individuals to meet the important needs of big data analysis and how it will develop the longer-term impacts for Higher Education research activity in this area.”

The HEFCE Catalyst Fund supports innovative and exceptional activity across the higher education sector in teaching, research and knowledge exchange. The fund provides investment in projects which will achieve major strategic changes and provide ongoing benefits for higher education and wider society that would not happen without additional support.

The full list of consortium partners and their strengths in environmental science and data analysis is:

University of Reading (leader partner) - over 250 researchers working on earth observation, climate science, meteorology, environmental science, cloud computing, data assimilation, informatics, visualisation, environmental modelling, metocean, metrology, quality assurance in environmental data sets, agriculture, food security, business school, NERC National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) and National Centre for Atmospheric Science - Climate (NCAS).

Airbus Defence & Space - design and manufacture of satellite systems, with business activities covering telecommunications and Earth observation, range of associated ground infrastructure and space equipment, multisource, multi-resolution optical and radar satellite imagery, geo-information tools and services.

Lighthill Risk Network - Knowledge exchange and networking between research base and financial services companies. Facilitate innovation in the financial services sector. Core members include Lloyds, Aon Benfield, Catlin and Guy Carpenter.

Magellium Ltd - Software development for signal and image processing, geomatics and data visualisation. Systems integration and development of software products and services based on Earth observation satellite data.

The Met Office - over 200 researchers working on weather forecasting, climate prediction, high performance computing, computational modelling of environmental systems, data processing and assimilation, numerical modelling, satellite applications, e-Infrastructure, earth systems science, ensemble forecasting, climate monitoring, underpinning e-Infrastructure.

Microsoft UK & Microsoft Research - Software Development, Communication and Collaboration, Computational Linguistics, Computational Science, Computer Systems and Networking, Education, Graphics and Multimedia, Hardware and Devices, Information Retrieval and Management, Machine Learning and Intelligence, Security and Privacy, Cloud Computing, Data centres to support business to business service.

National Centre for Earth Observation - A distributed NERC centre providing national strategic capability in Earth Observation with over 100 scientists across 26 organisations.

University of Oxford - Over 50 researchers at the University’s e-Research Centre working on high performance computing, software development, data repositories and data management systems, e-Infrastructure, parallel computing, web science, standards and interoperability for e-Infrastructure, visual computing. Access to hosting space and digital collaboration facilities.

Sainsbury’s - Operator of UK supermarkets and convenience stores, global supply chain management, production data analytics, agri-food expertise, database management.

Satellite Applications Catapult – A new independent innovation and technology company, developed to foster growth across the UK economy through the exploitation of space. They provide the Climate, Environmental and Monitoring from Space (CEMS) facility which offers easily accessible space-based climate change and EO data, as well as technology expertise, business support services, operational and visualisation facilities and knowledge exchange.

Science & Technologies Facilities Council - over 160 researchers in the Scientific Computing Department and the Centre for Environmental Data Archival working on high performance computing, visualisation, cloud computing, big data analytics, petascale data storage, software engineering, computational engineering, data management and data access.

University of Surrey - Over 160 researchers working on communication systems research, 5G mobile communication platforms, satellite instrument development, data analytics, pervasive computing, semantic interoperability, future internet, incubation facilities and business services. Over 80 researchers working on advanced multidisciplinary small satellite and space system engineering innovative communications, remote sensing, space science payloads for small satellites; and enabling technologies for low cost space exploitation.

Telespazio Vega - Satellite systems and applications, ground segment systems for satellite missions, data retrieval and distribution, EO data quality and assurance, visualisation and earth observation.

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