Thursday, 06 June 2013 00:23

NICTA, SIRCA, researchers come together on big data project

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Australia’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Research Centre of Excellence, NICTA, is leading what it says is a ground-breaking, multi-million-dollar project that will use ‘big data’ and machine learning to deliver new insights to the natural sciences.

The $12 million, three-year research project aims to advance fundamental mathematics and statistics to provide a framework, methodologies and tools for data-enabled scientific insight and discovery.

Speaking at the official launch of the knowledge discovery project at the Sydney headquarters of SIRCA -  the body set up by Australian and New Zealand universities to provide global data and advanced tools to promote and enable financial research and innovation - NICTA CEO, Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte, said the initiative was supported by $4 million from the Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF) and $8 million from the research collaborators over the life of the three-year project.

“This project will explore a new and powerful paradigm for data intensive science – not just in the domains we’re talking about tonight, but to many others ranging from medical and health sciences, to physics."

Professor Ian Chubb, Chief Scientist of Australia, said the project positioned Australia “to one day be home to a new generation of big data analytics tools that could be used by all manner of scientists around the world to advance knowledge discovery.”

Professor Chubb sad the rich biodiversity seen throughout the world was the result of many interacting ecological processes. He said a multidisciplinary team from NICTA, SIRCA, Macquarie University and The University of Sydney, would use data science to determine which of these interactions were “most important in producing the world we see around us, potentially opening a window on some of the mysteries of biodiversity and showing how ecosystems will be affected by climate change and other factors.”

NICTA says the project will also combine publicly available geological data from Geosciences Australia with SIRCA technology that helps predict stockmarket movements, to help picture what Australia was like 1.5 billion years ago, and how its rich metal deposits were formed.

Professor Durrant-Whyte said that work in complex laser systems would help improve the security of optical fibre communication systems, and the research would help discover sophisticated data analysis processes that could reduce the amount of raw data needed to conduct successful experiments, potentially hastening the rate of scientific progress.

And, SIRCA CEO, Dr Michael Briers said that data and the right software “could be very powerful catalysts for both breakthrough research and innovation.”

“In Chicago in financial services, the availability of the right data and tools led to a revolution in that discipline in the 1970s leading to 25 Nobel Prizes in Economics being awarded to scholars associated with the University of Chicago 1970-2010.”

Dr Briers said the project brought together some of the best computer and data scientists in the world from NICTA (machine learning and analytics) with software engineers from SIRCA (software and big data), together with three of Australia's most distinguished natural scientists in physics, plant science and geosciences - Terrestrial Ecology led by Professor Mark Westoby at Macquarie University, Physics and Mathematics of Complex Laser Systems led by Professor Deb Kane at Macquarie University, and Geosciences, Earth dynamics and tectonics led by Professor Dietmar Muller from The University of Sydney.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired and is a "volunteer" writer for iTWire. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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