This was the year when the NERC eScience programme was formulated, under the leadership of David Brown (NERC Director of Science Programmes). The gist of the programme was developed following a Working Group and Town Hall meeting in March. Subsequent to these meetings there was a call for outline proposals for projects followed by a call for full proposals and the announcement of opportunity for the creation of a NERC eScience centre (deadline November 2001). The selection of Cambridge to host the centre was made in December, and Martin Dove was appointed as director.
Preliminary discussions on how to run NIEeS began in January 2002. The first appointment to the NIEeS staff was made in May, and we set up our steering and management committees. NIEeS was located in the Centre for Mathematical Sciences in the University of Cambridge, collocated with the Cambridge eScience Centre.
NIEeS was officially launched in June with a formal afternoon seminar followed by two one-day seminars reflecting what was happening in eScience. Following this we held our first events, which included our first discussion on the important issue of metadata.
2003 & 2004
In 2003 we recruited our administrative team and a second technical staff member (Stuart Ballard). In these two years we established the main public face of our work, namely working with the environmental sciences community to develop a programme of training and outreach events and workshops to explore how eScience can be exploited by the community.
Training events included eScience technologies and tools such as Condor, Open Grid Services Architecture, and the Access Grid. In the case of the Access Grid, we organized open live demonstrations of its capabilities at most of the UK eScience centres. We also started a series of activities on the use of XML technologies within the environmental sciences.
We organized a "Birds of a Feather" session for the environmental eSciences community at the annual UK eScience All Hands meeting, and this has developed into an annual event to showcase our community's use of eScience technologies.
Although most of our events were held in Cambridge, we also ran eScience awareness events in other NERC centres. These included large one-day events at the British Geological Survey (Keyworth, Nottingham) and the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory (Liverpool). We also participated in other conferences and training events in order to extend our outreach work.
During 2005 we maintained an active programme of events, but this was a year of changes and our work carried on in the face of a number of difficulties. Our first technical staff member tendered his resignation at the end of 2004, but remained in post for the first two months of the year to help with the running of activities. Our contract was due to be renewed, but the announcement was delayed due to the need for NERC to work out the implications of the financial settlement of the recent spending review. As a result, it was impossible to advertise for a replacement for the technical post, and we had to work most of 2005 with a skeleton staff team. This necessarily limited the scope for new developments. We were pleased to learn that we were funded to continue for another two years, and in September we interviewed for our new technical post. In fact we were provided with sufficient flexibility to appoint two new technical positions (Ian Frame and Gen-Tao Chiang) who joined the team towards the end of the year.
In the summer we made the decision to move from our base in the Centre for Mathematical Sciences to the Department of Earth Sciences, where our director is based (the actual move took place in September). The move away from the Cambridge eScience Centre was offset by the fact that NIEeS is now collocated with the NERC-funded eMinerals project and the DTI-funded MaterialsGrid project, as well as two NERC eScience students based in Earth Sciences.
In the summer we also saw the resignations of our two part-time administrators, and the appointment of a new institute administrator (Jo Riley).
Highlights of our public programme included training events on the Access Grid, Storage Resource Broker and MarineXML and web services, community workshops on themes such as real time data access, biodiversity and metadata, and awareness workshops for initiatives such as the Digital Curation Centre. We started a major series of events on the use of eScience in environmental genomics.
With new staff in position and a new advisory committee, we launched some new initiatives while further developing the existing vigorous programme of eScience events.
The new initiatives include the development of our GridInfo web-based escience information service (using a wikipedia-type model), and our Test Services to enable members of the environmental sciences community to try out and learn about grid computing tools for themselves. The Test Services on offer include use of grid computing tools (Condor, Globus, GridSAM for example) on the NIEeS clusters, the use of the Storage Resource Broker for data management and new metadata tools, and the Access Grid.
2007 began with a new administrator in NIEeS, Therese Williams, replacing Jo (who was emigrating to Australia).
With our core team established, we developed a number of new lines of work aimed at environmental applications of escience and support for collaborative working. We put a lot of effort into developing new XML tools for data representation, in collaboration with the Cambridge-based eMinerals project, which resulted in the release of our WKML Fortran library to support the integration of Google Earth with environmental simulations. In addition, we have implemented the eMinerals RMCS tool to enable us to run a wide range of environmental applications on grid computing environments such as the NGS, with integrated data management.
2007 saw the launch of the University of Cambridge campus grid, Camgrid, in which NIEeS is a major partner. This is a major cross-campus grid based on the Condor middleware, with approximately 950 processors for dedicated production work.
We also put a lot of effort into the use of social network tools to support collaborating researchers with the launch of scispace.net, a tool designed to enable researchers to share ideas and documents with a high level of security.
During this year we launched new working groups in the areas of
- Individuals and Environmental Change: eScience for Sustainable Systems
- Geobrowsers in Oceanography
- Provision of chemical kinetic data and mechanisms to the NERC community