huge databanks of molecular structures, to
the UK census or the intricacies of animal
behaviour, academics handle enormous amounts
of data. Without computers, the knowledge
locked within this data would remain inaccessible.
Informatics provides the tools to help researchers,
in areas as diverse as ecology and economics,
mathematics and mechanical engineering, use
the available data to its full potential.
The University has been involved in informatics
for many years, but now a new purpose-built
centre is bringing interdisciplinary researchers
and students together in an exciting, dynamic
of informatics Professor Peter Dews
brief to the architects for the new Informatics
Institute was make it wow.
Funded through the science research infrastructure
fund (SRIF), it may not look like traditional
university teaching and research space, but
the layout was carefully designed to reflect
the institutes clear focus on both multidisciplinary
research and learning.
Informatics is, by its very nature,
multidisciplinary, and the open plan design
encourages dynamic teams and close collaborations,
between research staff, and with students,
said Professor Dew (pictured left).
The institute is perhaps the first interdisciplinary
centre whose work will be powered as much
by the teaching of undergraduate and postgraduate
courses as it will be by research. This may
be the model for the future, and we now have
the environment to make it happen.
Nine students started the new MSc in informatics
this year. The Bachelor in Informatics (BInf)
will have its first intake in September 2003.
The courses mix core computing modules with
modules in biochemistry and molecular biology,
geography, mechanical engineering, and, from
2003, health. The need for graduates with
informatics skills is shown by the industrial
sponsors supporting the courses, including
IBM and Hewlett Packard.
Informatics is providing the skills and another
SRIF-funded project provides the means. The
White Rose grid, set up jointly by Leeds,
Sheffield and York, will provide researchers
with powerful computing resources, and allow
collaboration on major projects across the
design a central open space leads off
to glass walled offices (below) and
seminar rooms, and an open plan research area
As director of the informatics network, linking
researchers in different disciplines who use
informatics, Dr Mark Birkin is keen to ensure
the grid and the informatics institute are
used to their full potential. My own
research area is devising models for use in
decision support, such as where to site cancer
screening facilities, said Dr Birkin.
The grid is useful not just because
of the volume of data required, but because
data such as the census or health authority
figures are often in different locations,
and the grid has the capacity to access and
analyse them simultaneously.
Different types of cancer affect different
sectors of the population, so Dr Birkins
model has to take in information on who will
need the service, where they live, their transport
and access needs, and tie that in with the
resources and infrastructure at possible sites
for the facility, whether GP surgeries or
hospitals all complex informatics tasks.
The research, funded through the DTI and the
ESRC, will provide a model for siting all
kinds of healthcare facilities.
Bioinformatics forms a large part of the informatics
research programme, from the analysis of huge
databanks to match molecular three-dimensional
structures to models of animal behaviour,
or simulations of evolutionary processes.
The complex matching calculations combined
with the enormous size of modern molecular
biological databases mean that grid-based
supercomputing will bring significant advances
in our research area, said Dr Dave Westhead.
Professor of geophysics, Greg Houseman, uses
computer models to predict and study processes
occurring deep in the Earth over very long
time-scales, such as thermal convection, plate
tectonics, and the internal deformation of
continents when mountain ranges are formed.
Geophysics also uses informatics in
the industrial application of very large datasets
generated by geophysical measurement systems
in oil or mineral exploration, he said.
The computational advances the grid
offers will allow for more complex three-dimensional
modelling, in particular in a new NERC-funded
project to look at the interface between solid
silicate mantle and liquid iron core deep
in the Earth.
research needs to adapt to new technologies,
said Professor Dew, But computing also
needs to change to become more inclusive of
applied research and be an enabling
technology. Informatics can provide
the means for that to happen, acting as a
hub for all types of research across the University.
more details, see the informatics website