29 January 2018
Lancaster University’s Data Science Institute has been awarded £5.5 million for two large-scale research programmes that will bring significant new understanding and aid decision-making in the areas of environmental and public health policy.

The programmes, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), promise to offer a paradigm shift in the use of data to tackle grand challenges in these domains.

The first project ‘Data Science of the Natural Environment’, which has been funded with £2.6 million, will develop a broad and unique range of new data science techniques integrated with environmental models to produce a ‘virtual lab’. This will enable better-informed decision-making about some of the most pressing issues facing society – including arctic ice-sheet melting and the consequent rising sea-levels, air pollution, and how to optimise our use of land.

Experts will create new data science techniques around spatial data, extreme events, and simulations, and develop methods to interface these with new and diverse forms of data. These will be integrated alongside traditional environmental modelling techniques to allow environmental policy makers to make informed decisions for the future.

Delivered in partnership with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the project brings together a cross-disciplinary team of outstanding scientists and is supported by 22 key stakeholder organisations including the Environment Agency, Met Office, Defra, the Scottish and Welsh Governments, Natural England, EDF and Microsoft.

Professor David Leslie from Lancaster University’s Data Science Institute is leading the project. He said: “We are bringing together leading experts from a wide range of disciplines, alongside partner organisations, to develop a game-changing virtual lab. This will enable a myriad of complex environmental models to work together, offer new insights and provide much richer information for policy makers.”

The ‘Data Science of the Natural Environment’ project also benefits from £500,000 from the Natural Environment Research Council.

A second project, ‘New Approaches for Bayesian Data Science: Tackling Challenges from the Health Services’, which has received £2.95 million of funding, aims to develop new data science methods, and obtain fundamental new insights into public health issues.

By extracting a richer understanding from the large quantities of health-related data that is routinely collected, the programme will develop new data science methods that will enable improved diagnoses, more timely interventions and effective treatments, and pave the way for more personalised medicine.

This programme, is led by Professor Paul Fearnhead of Lancaster University’s Data Science Institute.

“There are huge amounts of data being gathered related to health – both at individual levels and population levels,” he said. “There are significant data science challenges that need to be met if we are to maximise the value from such data. For example we will need to merge information from multiple sources, where often these sources will be of very different type.”

“We will be developing the tools that will enable healthcare professionals and decision-makers respond more quickly, and effectively, when dealing with public healthcare emergencies such as the outbreak of epidemics, and help provide ongoing personalised treatment and healthcare for individuals.”

This programme also involves experts from the University of Warwick, the University of Bristol, the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford, as well as involving partners such as AstraZeneca, the Wellcome Trust Sanger, Public Health England and Health Protection Scotland.

Professor Idris Eckley, Co-Director of Lancaster University’s Data Science Institute, said: "Harnessing the value of data is one of the key challenges of our generation. These exciting programmes will develop vital new data-driven methods and insights that will help inform our future approach to healthcare and the environment.

“I am delighted that Lancaster's reputation for world-leading data science research is been recognised with these important strategic investments.”

The two projects are among five funded with £14 million by the EPSRC following a call for ‘New Approaches to Data Science’.

Universities and Science Minister Sam Gyimah said: “We know the data we hold can change the way we live our lives and these important research projects will help us better understand the vast amount of data that is produced on a daily basis.”

Professors Leslie and Fearnhead are also within Lancaster's Department of Mathematics and Statistics.