The University of Southampton

Research software receives £3.5m cross-council support

Published: 1 December 2015

The Software Sustainability Institute – a team committed to cultivating world-class research through software – has received £3.5m funding to continue its valuable support for the UK's research software community. The Institute was founded in 2010, comprising academics and software engineers from Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) at the University of Southampton, and from the Universities of Edinburgh, Manchester and Oxford.

Two new funders, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), have joined forces with the Institute’s original funder, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to continue to invest in research that is underpinned by software until at least 2019.

Neil Chue Hong (pictured), the Institute’s Director and Principal Investigator, said: “The Institute is delighted with this development, which shows that the importance of software – and the goals of software sustainability - are reaching an ever-broader audience.”

Professor Phillip Nelson, EPSRC’s Chief Executive, said: "We hope that the Institute will build on its internationally leading work to support researchers from across the disciplines and help them accelerate their research through the use of reliable, reusable and reproducible software."

The Institute was founded in 2010 and over the last five years it has helped thousands of UK researchers, from all disciplines – from nuclear fusion to climate change – benefit from better software. It has:

  • built a network of 61 Fellows from across research disciplines;
  • championed software and careers for Research Software Engineers;
  • worked with over 50 research projects to directly improve their codes;
  • written over 80 guides read by over 50,000 people;
  • and trained over 1,000 researchers in basic software engineering.

The funding will provide four more staff members to expand the range of activities and build on earlier successes. “The Institute’s remit is broad: we work with researchers from across all domains. Our new funding will allow us to concentrate more effort into areas where we’ve seen incredible interest from the research community,” said Simon Hettrick, Deputy Director.

The Institute is well served by four Co-Investigators: Les Carr from ECS at Southampton, David De Roure at Oxford, Carole Goble at Manchester and Mark Parsons at Edinburgh.

“The enhancement and maturation of existing research software, and the development of the skills needed to produce it, is a priority for the BBSRC”, said Goble; “modern biology is increasingly dependent on the exploitation of advanced computing technologies and approaches.” This is also paramount for the ESRC community, as De Roure observes: “Social science methods are harnessing new forms of data and real-time analytics, underpinned by developing and applying software tools and techniques, as we research new ways of living and working in a digital age.”

The further funding will allow the Institute to build on work with established partners. “Although EPSRC has been integral to the Institute from the start, this doesn’t mean software sustainability is solved for this Research Council", said Parsons. "For example, the steady stream of new PhD students funded through EPSRC's Centres for Doctoral Training bring us new researchers to work with every day." Indeed, a focus on students and the new skills they will need to conduct research in this software-reliant age will be a priority during the Institute’s second phase. As Les Carr says, “Students are the vanguard of new research that depends on novel forms of data, innovative digital methodologies and cutting-edge analytical techniques. The Institute-promoted software competencies is a cornerstone for a range of transformational training programmes that are developing a new generation of world leading research expertise for the UK.”

Neil Chue Hong concludes: “The last five years have seen many significant changes in the way that software is viewed by researchers - some of these changes can be attributed to the Institute’s work. Everyone at the Institute is excited to play an important role in this revolution, and are keen to start on the next challenges. We will continue to support UK researchers and developers and launch new initiatives to help drive UK research, because better software means better research.”

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