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£73m fund to unlock big data potential announced

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts is to unveil £73 million of funding to help the public and academics unlock the potential of big data.

Speaking at a GovNet conference on high performance computing and big data today, he will outline details of the projects that help bring large sets of complex data into usable formats that can inform research and analysis.

It is estimated that the big data market will benefit the UK economy by £216 billion and create 58,000 new jobs before 2017.

The 55 projects receiving investment will drive innovation in a number of diverse areas, including developing a better understanding of human disease, tackling obesity and solving transport problems.

Mr Willetts said: “Big data is one of the eight great technologies of the future and a priority for government. It has the potential to transform public and private sector organisations, drive research and development, increase productivity and innovation, and enable market-changing products and services.

“This funding will help the UK grasp these opportunities and get ahead in the global race.”

The new big data investments are:

  • The Medical Research Council (MRC) will be investing £50 million in bioinformatics, which uses many areas of computer science, statistics, mathematics and engineering to process biological data. Benefits include an improved understanding of human disease.

  • The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has £4 million of funding for 21 new open data projects. They will make large data sets that ordinarily only academics would have access to accessible to the general public. For example, Lancaster University is working on a project that will ‘unlock’ many thousands of musical scores which are stored online as frozen images, opening them up to a new generation of musicians.

  • The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) will invest £14 million in four new research centres at Essex, Glasgow, UCL and Leeds Universities. The centres will make data from private sector organisations and local government accessible to researchers investigating anything from transport to obesity. At present the data is being collected by these organisations, but is not being used for research purposes. This is phase two of the data network. Phase one was set up to get information from government departments.

  • The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has £4.6 million of funding for 24 projects to help the UK research community take advantage of existing environmental data. One project will digitalise images of the solar disc, taken as early as the 1900s, to help inform our understanding of severe space weather risks.
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