Software and research: the Institute's Blog

firmware parameterisationDr Edward Fisher, Agile Tomography Group, School of Engineering, University of Edinburgh

Software sustainability is crucial as academia looks to commercialise its outputs and progress designs up the technology readiness levels (TRLs). One of the key concepts that transcends software, firmware and indeed silicon hardware design, is the concept of parameterisation. It may seem simple, but a surprisingly large number of us are happy to copy code, thereby creating multiple versions, or simply to leave a code parameter "hard-wired" or "hard-coded" as we are under pressure to "just get it working".

But what can the industrial, commercial mindset teach us when it comes to software sustainability for both projects with multiple developers, or projects with lengthy time scales where we must think of our future selves, perhaps even remove some personal effort and strife further down the line? Can code parameterisation allow us to get closer to our long-term motto of "Better Software, Better Research", or indeed "Better Firmware, Better Results", or "Better Hardware, Better Reproducibility"?

Code Parameterisation

So, what do we mean by code parameterisation? What advantages does it allow, and of course what effort must be…

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Barista mindsetBy Laurence Billingham, RSE at NERC and Software Sustainability Institute fellow

Anyone who has met me in real life knows I love coffee. In fact, I'm writing this post whilst drinking an El Salvadorian pour over in a place with exposed brickwork and a floor that looks like it used to be part of a school gym.

But this post isn't about my love for coffee per se or even about using a caffeine rush to produce awesome code really speedily. It is about a thing I'm struggling to name (naming stuff is one of the canonically hard things after all); the best I can currently come up with is:

Barista mindset

Work like a craftsperson, respect the care that others have put into your materials.

In my previous group, I was lucky enough to work alongside a bunch of talented and dedicated engineers. These folks sweat for the data they give me. Sometimes they spend weeks away from their families in lonely windswept places; making sure our instruments keep working properly and calibrating their data. I'd estimate that we spend several hundred thousands of dollars per year on instrument calibration and data quality assurance.

In a previous gig too I was fortunate to be able to witness the care…

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coding for hardware engineersBy Edward Fisher, Agile Tomography Group, School of Engineering, University of Edinburgh, and Software Sustainability Institute fellow

Originally posted  at

Here at the Software Sustainability Institute, we strive to promote best practices in software development for research. Better Software, Better Research. That’s the motto. But does this need to be restricted to software languages such as C, C++, Python or Java? Or should it be restricted to the ideals of open data and open code?

My view is that sustainability can also be significantly included in other domains that use textual description as part of the design process. My role within the Agile Tomography group here in Edinburgh is to develop hardware, firmware and software that enables custom designed, precision instruments to perform often in harsh environments. If we go down a custom route for something simple such as a data acquisition system, the role of the scientist or engineer must touch upon everything from PCB design, analogue and digital circuits, embedded firmware and digital…

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How to get EPSRC RSE FellowshipBy Christopher Woods, EPSRC RSE fellow, University of Bristol

As one of the RSEs who hit the jackpot and had their EPSRC RSE Fellowship applications funded, I know how crucial it was that my University supported my application. I was very lucky that the University of Bristol provided an excellent letter of support. Among other things, the University committed to a capital budget, management training, and, most importantly, a permanent position helping to create a new Research Software Engineering Group within the Advanced Computing Research Centre in IT Services. These promises demonstrated the partnership and level of commitment that existed between Bristol and myself. I know this was recognised and rated highly by the reviewers and panel.

So, how did I get this level of institutional support? And what recommendations do I have on how you could achieve something similar?

First, I should say that all universities and individuals are different, so this is not a one-size-fits-all objective recipe. However, there are some generalisations that I believe are true.

An RSE Fellowship is a Fellowship

You’re applying for a Fellowship, so the normal advice about how to get a university to support any Fellowship or major grant application is valid. While the Fellowship…

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SciTogBy David Pérez-Suárez, University College London.

Originally published at

Why #SciTog

Since I finished my PhD, I’ve worked on various large e-infrastructure projects which aimed to build bridges between various research sub-disciplines within solar system physics. All these projects were doing a great job for researchers in one area to know the effects (or the source) in a different place. That helps a lot to get the bigger picture and to find out interesting events in an easier manner than before. However, I think that’s just the beginning. A researcher specialised in one area may not understand exactly what’s happening in a different one. We were helping researchers to discover data in other domains but not to connect them with the experts in those areas.

Due to my involvement in open source projects and online communities like Software Carpentry, I knew such a thing was possible with the current tools available. But, why were we not using them? That thought embarked me on this adventure, which is not finished, but its first chapter has just concluded.

Getting there...

As part of my Software Sustainability Institute Fellowship, I organised…

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