Software and research: the Institute's Blog

Latest version published on 8 February, 2018.

2011.11.15_building_software.pngBy Adam Tomkins (Chair), University of Sheffield, James Grant, University of Bath, Alexander Morley, University of Oxford, Stuart Grieve, University College London, Tania Allard, University of Sheffield.

There is a growing interest in the adoption of software best practices in research computing and allied fields. Best practices improve the quality of research software and efficiency in development and maintenance as well having the potential to deliver benefits outside software development.  However, this interest in these methods is not universal and there is a possibility that a drive for best practice could lead to a widening divide between those who embrace this change and those who do not. It is therefore vital that Research Software Engineers (RSEs) work closely with domain specialists, to bridge this divide and attempt to meet the challenges of efficiency and reproducibility:

  • How do we…

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Latest version published on 7 February, 2018.

6375359117_dc18c1a762_z.jpgBy Sam Cox, University of Leicester, Richard Adams, Cranfield University, Eike Müller, Met Office.

The role of software in research and who writes it

From an institutional level down to teams and even individuals, research today is heavily reliant upon software and particularly upon bespoke computer code which solves specific scientific problems.. This creates a huge demand for software creation and maintenance. Traditionally, this has been the responsibility of post-docs and postgraduates. But while they play a crucial role in the success of the research group, the indirect nature of the translation of their work into papers (particularly the maintenance and update work to keep on keep the software fit-for-purpose under changing scientific requirements) can leave the individual researchers at a disadvantage—they have less time for the more traditional work of running experiments and writing papers. This in turn has an effect upon their career progression, which hinges on clear metrics for success.

As a result, one major issue is how to identify what ‘…

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Latest version published on 5 February, 2018.

3857596_b61f5c8d78_z.jpgBy Sammie Buzzard, University College London; Martin Donnelly, University of Edinburgh.

Introduction or why does this matter?

Whether our involvement in software is in developing it from scratch, building upon existing code, reusing or repurposing someone else’s work, or preserving it (for ten years or until the end of the world, whichever comes first), good software practices benefit us all. This could range from basic version control for an undergraduate’s first coding project to passing well-documented software from one research project to its successor, but the best way to motivate people to improve their practices will be highly dependent on the individual and their circumstances and drivers.

Additionally, appealing to the individual is effective but it doesn’t scale—there are simply too many people involved in research software for a small community of advocates to reach on an individual basis. There are also more wide-ranging actions that could be taken, for example by journals and funding bodies, that could catalyse change within the research software community as a whole. Like any bridge, it is  a good idea to start building from both ends...

So what can we do at an individual level?

In common with most other…

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Latest version published on 2 February, 2018.

LUX_watertank-1024x587.jpgBy Gillian Law, technology writer

The LUX-ZEPLIN project is building the largest and most sensitive dark matter detector of its type ever constructed. The detector will be built a mile underground in the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in Lead, South Dakota and is due to go live in 2020.

Potential detector materials are currently being screened prior to their use in the experiment, and the results are collated and analysed using a 43-sheet Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. The spreadsheet has worked well to date, allowing researchers to share and view data, but moving to a more versatile and robust database solution will be very useful once the experiment begins, says Dr Alex Lindote, LZ Background Simulations project lead, who is based at Laboratory of Instrumentation and Experimental Particle Physics (LIP)-Coimbra, Portugal.

Lindote set up the spreadsheet in late 2015, bringing in data from a Google spreadsheet that had been set up by researchers to share their data.

“It was getting hard to track who was making changes and what was happening, so I was asked to start taking care of it. I decided to move it to an Excel file that I could control more easily,” Lindote says.

Once it became clear…

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Latest version published on 1 February, 2018.

raniere.pngBy Raniere Silva, Software Sustainability Institute.

In early 2017, NumFOCUS received a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation that helps fund a variety of diversity and inclusion initiatives, including the Diversity & Inclusion in Scientific Computing Unconference during PyData New York City 2017. NumFOCUS is publishing notes about the Unconference at their blog.

This wasn't my first time attending a event label as a unconference, I attended Google Summer of Code Mentor Summit, Mozilla Festival and, of course, Collaborations Workshop, and because of this I had my own fantasy of how the event would be: diverse and amazing group of attendees, infinite number of breakout rooms—you can fit as many breakout rooms as…

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