Software and research: the Institute's Blog

The World beneath our feet

By Kristian Strutt, Experimental Officer at the University of Southampton, and Dean Goodman, Geophysicist at the Geophysical Archaeometry Laboratory, UC Santa Barbara.

This article is part of our series: a day in the software life, in which we ask researchers from all disciplines to discuss the tools that make their research possible.

Archaeological practice in the field seems so down to earth. The daily routine of excavation, recording of stratigraphy, finds and contexts, and understanding the different formation processes – it is what we are, and what we do. 

However, it is easy to overlook the scientific aspects of our work that integrate with the development of how archaeology understands past human activity.

Supercomputer driving tests

Motorway at night

By Mike Jackson, Software Architect, Andrew Turner ARCHER Computational Science and Engineering Support Team Leader, and Clair Barrass, ARCHER training administrator.

In 2013, the DiRAC consortium rolled out the DiRAC driving licence, a software skills aptitude test for researchers wanting to use DiRAC's high performance computing resources.

Now, ARCHER, the UK National Supercomputing Service, is to roll out an ARCHER driving test. Despite their similar names, these tests differ in nature, intent, scale and reward. In this post we compare and contrast these two supercomputer tests.

Software Carpentry for the NHS

By Aleksandra Pawlik, Training Leader.

Last month saw us run a special Software Carpentry course for students undertaking the MSc in Clinical Bioinformatics course at the University of Manchester. This combines an academic curriculum with a work-based programme.

The students are already qualified professionals and based at various clinical units throughout the UK, with teaching take place during short, intense training sessions.

The instructors at the Software Carpentry workshop were the Institute’s Aleksandra Nenadic, who taught for the first time, and myself. We were also supported by Mike Cornell and course leader Professor Andy Brass who acted as helpers.

Observations from the first UK Data Carpentry workshop

By Ian Dunlop, Software Engineer, University of Manchester

Last week I had the good fortune be a helper at the first Data Carpentry workshop run at the University of Manchester.

The workshop was supported by ELIXIR UK. The instructors were Alejandra Gonzalez-Beltran from the Oxford e-Research Centre (OeRC), as well as the Institute's Shoaib Sufi and Aleksandra Pawlik.

The workshop's helpers were Aleksandra Nenadic, Christian Brenninkmeijer and myself, all based at the University of Manchester. Here are some thoughts on it all.

It's impossible to conduct research without software, say 7 out of 10 UK researchers

By Simon Hettrick, Deputy Director.

No one knows how much software is used in research. Look around any lab and you’ll see software – both standard and bespoke – being used by all disciplines and seniorities of researchers. Software is clearly fundamental to research, but we can’t prove this without evidence. And this lack of evidence is the reason why we ran a survey of researchers at 15 Russell Group universities to find out about their software use and background.

Headline figures

  • 92% of academics use research software
  • 69% say that their research would not be practical without it
  • 56% develop their own software (worryingly, 21% of those have no training in software development
  • 70% of male researchers develop their own software, and only 30% of female researchers do so


The data collected from the survey is available for download and is licensed under a Creative Commons by Attribution licence (attribution to The University of Edinburgh on behalf of the Software Sustainability Institute).

More Girls in STEM Careers

By Rane Johnson, Tech Alliance of Central Oregon Board Member and Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research.

Reproduced with permission from the Bendtech blog.

Being in the technology industry for the past 18 years I have seen lots of changes, but unfortunately one area that hasn't changed is the number of women pursuing careers in computer science and engineering. Of the approximately 5.5 million engineering and computing professionals employed in the United States, women make up just 26 percent of computing professionals and only 13 percent of engineers, according to the U.S. Census.

There have been a lot of discussions lately about the lack of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, the lack of women in the technology industry and the lack of women developing tomorrow's innovations. But if that is all young women hear about, what would motivate a girl to go into a field where she would be considered an outsider?

I feel extremely lucky to have had an amazing career in the technology industry, most recently as the principal director of research for Microsoft. I have never felt like an outsider, but this is not what our young girls hear today. I love living in Central Oregon where we have a blossoming tech startup eco-system building and passionate fellow board members on the Tech Alliance of Central Oregon working hard to support companies in technology, but when I speak to young women they have never heard about these great opportunities. In Oregon we have approximately 250 high schools, but only 30 of them teach some type of computer science class. In Central Oregon we only have three.

Reproducible Research in the Neurosciences

By Robyn A Grant, Lecturer in Environmental Physiology and Behaviour,  Manchester Metropolitan University.

I was lucky enough to attend the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Meeting this year in Washington DC. A collection of over 30,000 neuroscientists met to discuss exciting new research findings, along with ethical and scientific issues in the neurosciences. One such discussion occurred on a Sunday morning session entitled Enhancing Reproducibility of Neuroscience Studies. It was a symposium chaired by Story Landis (past Director of NINDS) and Thomas Insel (Director of NIMH), with a good balance of speakers representing funders, publishers and scientists, including Francis Collins (Director of NIH), Veronique Kiermer (Nature Publishing), Huda Zoghbi (Bayer College Medicine) and John Morrison (Mount Sinai Hospital).

Weaving the STRANDS of autonomous robotics

From left to right: Bruno Lacerda, Chris Burbridge and robot Bob.By Nick Hawes, Senior Lecturer in Intelligent Robotics at the School of Computer Science, University of Birmingham.

This article is part of our series: a day in the software life, in which we ask researchers from all disciplines to discuss the tools that make their research possible.

There is a great deal of excitement surrounding the use of robots in a variety of industries, from security and care to logistics and manufacturing.

These are not the robots of the past, who were static automatons confined to cages and empty factory floors, but interactive robots working alongside humans in everyday environments. However, to create robots that can cope in the real world in all its dynamic, unpredictable glory we must create systems which are wholly, or at least partially, autonomous.

MicroPasts - funding the future of archaeology

By Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, Research Associate, UCL Institute of Archaeology, and Daniel Pett, ICT Advisor, British Museum.

This article is part of our series: a day in the software life, in which we ask researchers from all disciplines to discuss the tools that make their research possible.

With the archaeology, heritage and museum sectors suffering from substantial budget cuts in recent years, there has been a need to find creative ways to generate income and keep our heads above water. Online crowdfunding is a relatively new way to raise funds for archaeological and heritage related projects. It can create a space where archaeologists, historians, heritage specialists, volunteer archaeological societies and other interested members of the public can join forces to conduct high quality research projects that are of interest to all.

Building a firm foundation for solid mechanics software

By Gillian Law, TechLiterate, talking with Lee Margetts, University of Manchester.

This article is part of our series: Breaking Software Barriers, in which Gillian Law investigates how our Research Software Group has helped projects improve their research software. If you would like help with your software, let us know.

Software development for research into solid mechanics, particularly in High Performance Computing, has fallen behind other research areas such as fluid dynamics and chemistry, argues Lee Margetts, head of Synthetic Environments and Systems Simulation at the University of Manchester Aerospace Research Institute. It's time for some collaborative development to create some quality, shared code, he says.