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U.K. e-Science Program a ’Jewel’

September 15, 2010 | Posted by Microsoft Research Blog

On a gloomy day in December 2009, an international panel of experts met at the unlikely venue of a football stadium on the outskirts of Oxford, U.K. The panel, chaired by Dan Atkins, who recently stepped down as director of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Office of Cyberinfrastructure, convened to review the achievements of the U.K. e-Science Programme, which I had the privilege of directing from 2001 to 2005, before I joined Microsoft Research. The venue for the review was chosen to overlap with the 2009 U.K. e-Science All Hands Meeting (AHM). These AHMs were begun in 2002, and their continuation three years after the end of the program’s formal funding is, for me, a testament to the passion and strength of the multidisciplinary e-science community that we created. I was present in Oxford to discuss my management and organization of the e-Science Core Programme, and I was curious to see what impression the achievements of U.K. e-science would make on this distinguished panel.

The review was organized by the U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which had set up a punishing schedule for the panel-a virtually nonstop series of interviews and visits, with hardly a moment to breathe. The results of the review have now been published on the EPSRC website, and I was delighted that the panel had concluded “that the U.K. e-Science Program is in a world-leading position along the path of building a U.K. Foundation for the Transformative Enhancement of Research and Innovation.” They further declared that “the U.K. has created a ‘jewel’, a pioneering, vital activity of enormous strategic importance to the pursuit of scientific knowledge and the support of allied learning.”

The report concluded with recommendations for action by the United Kingdom and included a plea for the need to support “Crossing the Chasm” between research prototypes and mainstream cyberinfrastructure. Atkins recently presented a summary of the international panel’s conclusions to the NSF Advisory Committee for Cyberinfrastructure.

The NSF’s Office of Cyberinfrastructure is developing a detailed implementation plan for U.S. cyberinfrastructure. Ideally, the NSF will take some of the good things from the U.K. e-science experience and avoid some of those that proved less successful!

-Tony Hey, corporate vice president, External Research, a division of Microsoft Research