Government unveils £73m fund for big data projects

Universities and Science minister David Willetts is expected to announce that four UK research councils will receive new funding totalling £73 million to work on their big data projects.

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Universities and Science minister David Willetts is expected to announce that four UK research councils will receive new funding totalling £73 million to work on their big data projects.

The government has designated big data as one of the eight “great technologies of the future” that support UK science strengths and business capabilities. It most recently announced £189 million of funding for big data in the Autumn Statement 2012.

At a GovNet conference today on high performance computing and big data, Willetts is expected to outline the details of the projects that will help bring large sets of complex data into usable formats for researchers to use.

For instance, the Medical Research Council (MRC) is investing £50 million in bioinformatics, which uses many areas of computer science, statistics, mathematics and engineering to process biological data. This could be used to improve researchers’ understanding of human disease.

A second tranche of funding, £4 million, is going to the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), for 21 new open data projects. The council will make large datasets usually only accessed by academics available to the public. For example, Lancaster University is working on a project to ‘unlock’ thousands of musical scores that are stored online as frozen images.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is investing £14 million in four new research centres at Essex, Glasgow, UCL and Leeds Universities. These centres aim to make data from private sector organisations and local government accessible to researchers investigating a wide range of subjects, from transport to obesity. This is the second phase of the data research network announced last year. Phase one was set up to extract information from government departments.

Meanwhile, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is spending £4.6 million on 24 projects to help UK researchers take advantage of existing environmental data. For example, one project will digitise images of the solar disc dating back as far as the 1900s, to help scientists understand severe space weather risks.

“Big data is one of the eight great technologies of the future and a priority for government. It has the potential to transform public and private sector organisations, drive research and development, increase productivity and innovation and enable market-changing products and services,” Willetts is expected to say.

“This funding will help the UK grasp these opportunities and get ahead in the global race.”

According to SAS research, organisations that invest in big data technologies could help generate £216 billion for the UK economy and create 58,000 jobs by 2017.

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