P19: Big data: solutions for the big problems faced by modern societies

Friday, November 22, 2013 - 10:30am to 12:00pm
British Consulate General Toronto

There is an unprecedented amount of data being generated by public, private, and research organizations. Effective management and use of big data requires tools of e-science and supercomputing capabilities in which storage of many petabytes of data is fully compatible with regular computing and data transfer. Successful exploitation of this process is thought to deliver huge benefits and provide game-changing opportunities for the industrial, government, academic and research sectors. The ability to extrapolate never-before-seen patterns from massive and mixed data sets offers revolutionary value for economic growth and social benefits. The advantages of big data for business are obvious; businesses that have mastered big data technologies are using them to generate new sources of value for consumers and shareholders alike. The advantages for the public sector are even more staggering. Many of the technologies used and developed in the private sector are now being adopted to accelerate the research and development process in science and engineering that have real implications for issues concerning the modern day society. From reducing health care costs, optimizing energy usage and conservation, tracking climate change, and developing smart city infrastructure, big data offers endless possibilities for tackling grand challenges faced by today’s modern societies. Governments around the world have recognized the implications and scope of benefits to be gained from exploiting big data, and have subsequently put their money where their mouth is. In the U.K., the E-Infrastructure Council was setup which secured approximately £200M in funding to develop the infrastructure for supercomputing as well as data storage and analysis capabilities, with an additional £145M to enhance this infrastructure and establish partnerships. Similarly, the Obama Administration launched a $200M Big Data Research & Development initiative to accelerate the R&D process to strengthen national security, improve health care outcomes, and transform teaching and learning. The Governments of Canada and Ontario teamed up with IBM and a consortium of seven universities led by the University of Toronto and Western University to invest $210M to form the new research and development innovation network in Ontario. This centre will support large scale data mining and analytics for advanced research, ultimately leading to commercialization. The session being proposed under the ‘Emerging Issues in Canadian Science Policy’ will bring together world leaders in supercomputing and bid data analytics from the U.K., U.S. and Canada. The session will discuss the big data revolution in terms of the solutions it offers to large scale research problems that ultimately have implications for the modern society. In addition to presenting the various policies and road maps in place in their respective countries, each speaker will present a particular case study that clearly outlines how big data benefits the society. This process will not only help guide the process of influencing policy and best practice within Canada, but also provide new ideas on how big data solutions can be implemented to tackle emerging issues in the near future.


Jeremy Yates studied Natural Sciences (Physics) at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge from 1986-89, and subsequently studied for a MSC and then PhD in Radio Astronomy at Jodrell Bank, Univeristy of Manchester from 1990-1993. His academic career has been in astrophysics research, with research posts at the Universities of Bristol and Hertfordshire and Lectureships at Hertfordshire and University College London. His interests are in radio interferometric studies of stellar evolution and galaxy morphologies, and in the simulation of radiative transfer of both molecular line emission and emission from astrophysical dust particles. Lately he has been working on coupling radiative magneto-hydrodynamical codes with astrochemical codes to study the formation of stars in the very early universe and stellar evolution in our own galaxy. He is also a member of the Square Kilometre Array Science and Data Processing Design Study Work Package.

These areas of research are IT intensive and require the collection, processing, analysis and simulation of Big Data. Since 1998 he has been involved with the procurement and design of cluster systems to support astrophysics research, and then general research computing, until the present data. At present he is Director of the DiRAC HPC Facility (www.dirac.ac.uk) which provides Research Computing Services for the UK research communities in Theoretical Particle Physics, Theoretical Astrophysics and Cosmology, and Theoretical Nuclear Physics. This facility was awarded £15m in 2011 as part of the UK Government's investment programme in national E-infrastructure. As Chair of the National E-infrastructure Project Director's Group, he is currently helping to co-ordinate the efforts to integrate into a national eco-system the Govts HPC (2011) and Big Data (2012) capital investments in the National E-Infrastructure.

Executive Director of Operations and Head of Institute at EPCC, the High Performance Computing and Data centre based at the University of Edinburgh.
Member of the Executive Board of the European Data Infrastructure (EUDAT)
Member of the Board of Directors of the PRACE aisbl (European HPC infrastructure)

Alison has worked at EPCC, the high performance computing and data centre of the University of Edinburgh, for over 20 years. EPCC runs national and local HPC services mainly for the academic research community in the UK, undertakes technology transfer to industry and is very active in large European projects, including PRACE, EUDAT and CRESTA. She was employed initially at EPCC as a Project and Programme Manager of European Commission projects, following a previous career working in industry as a real-time systems programmer, project manager and product manager for a variety of large technology companies. She has undergraduate degrees in History (from the University of Edinburgh) and in Mathematics and Technology (from the Open University) and a post-graduate Business Administration degree (from Heriot-Watt University).
She sits on the Executive Board of EUDAT, the European project which is building a Collaborative Data Infrastructure, where she has responsibility for sustainability issues and also sits on the Steering Group of the UK Numerical Algorithms and Intelligent Software Centre, which is investigating the algorithms and software methodology underpinning HPC. Prior to joining the Board of Directors of PRACE, she had responsibility for the DECI programme which provides access to researchers to national facilities in other European countries.

Compute Canada / Calcul Canada

For more than a decade, Jill Kowalchuk has been an ambitious driver and advocate for the advancement of Canada’s technology and innovation sectors. As President of Compute Canada, she currently oversees a national platform of advanced computing infrastructure and distributed technical teams that support Canadian research discovery and innovation. Last year, she spearheaded Compute Canada’s incorporation as a national not-for-profit organization, identifying and managing key governance and policy issues throughout the transition, and laying the groundwork for a new management and governance structure. Prior to her role with Compute Canada, Jill was the Chief Executive Officer of WestGrid, one of four regional consortia within Compute Canada’s national platform. She supported WestGrid’s expansion from seven to 14 partner institutions, and has provided regular leadership and strategic input on all aspects of the organization, from proposal development, to staffing and infrastructure purchasing. Alongside her role with WestGrid, Jill was also Vice-President, Project and Partnership Development at Cybera Inc. In 2007, as part of a core Executive team, she played a key role in developing Cybera’s vision and strategy when the organization transitioned from Netera Alliance to Cybera with an expanded mandate to advance the use of cyberinfrastructure to support innovation and economic development in Alberta. She regularly participates in national discussions on developing Canada’s digital strategy and is an active supporter of initiatives that encourage youth and women to enter the fields of science and engineering. Jill studied Computer Science and Management at the University of Calgary.

Head of Project Development, Asia-Pacific, STFC
Head of International Partnerships, the Hartree Centre
Head of Commercial Interactions for the SKA Project, the Hartree Centre

John has recently moved to Auckland, NZ to take up the above roles, concentrating on developing collaborations and partnerships with academic and commercial organisations across the Asia-Pacific region to help deliver world class research, development, innovation and economic impact.
John was formerly the Project Director of the Hartree Centre and Head of Campus Centres at STFC. Since 2011 John has helped to secure ~£70M of capital investment from the UK Government into STFC; including £2.5M into accelerator science at the SciTech Daresbury Campus and £56.5M for platforms for software development and studies into energy efficient computing within the Hartree Centre, £11M for the development of platforms for the SKA project; plus £8M of recurrent funding from STFC itself. As Project Director for the Hartree Centre John was responsible for developing its ownership, governance and business models and ensuring it achieves its goal to become a major component in the UK e-infrastructure, concentrating on the development and demonstration of energy efficient new software and hardware combinations to enable the full exploitation of the UK’s e-infrastructure by UK industry, academia and society in general.

John graduated as a chemist from UMIST, is a Fellow of the UK Institute of Sales and Marketing Management, is Visiting Professor of Science and Innovation at the University of Huddersfield, is a founder member of the UK E-infrastructure Leadership Council (ELC), is a member of the ARCHIE-WeST Supercomputing Centre International Advisory Panel and is a member of the N8 HPC Advisory Board.
During his 30+ year career John has spent many years, including a period in the USA, working in technical sales and marketing roles covering precious metals and high purity materials. John then spent the next decade working in import and export sales and marketing roles covering analytical instrumentation and systems and novel polymer technology. For the last eighteen years John has worked in technology transfer, business development and IP/R exploitation roles. John has experience in exporting to Europe, North America, India and Asia-Pacific and in a great variety of roles across many industries and technologies.

Director, Research Development, High Performance Computing
Ontario Centres of Excellence

Ron joined the Ontario Centres of Excellence in the summer of 2012 to oversee OCE’s commitment to the new Southern Ontario Smart Computing Innovation Plaform (SOSCIP). In this role, he is responsible for small to medium sized enterprise engagement in collaborative research projects utilizing high performance computing technologies from SOSCIP, a consortium that focuses on industry academic research collaboration leveraging HPC in the areas of health, energy, water, cities and agile computing. Before joining OCE, Ron founded HPC Insights Canada with the objective of raising the awareness of the competitive value of High Performance Computing (HPC) for Canadian business; he completed a national survey titled “Canadian Commercial Adoption of High Performance Computing” in collaboration with key Canadian HPC stakeholders; as a result, Ron has a broad understanding of HPC technologies and how they are employed in industrial processes and academic research. Earlier in his career, Ron worked in a number of start-ups in engineering design services, telecommunications, photonics and high performance computing. He began his career at Bell-Northern Research, where he led the development of several commercially successful telecommunications products which generated billions in revenue and sold globally. Ron holds a Bachelor of Applied Science in Electrical Engineering degree from the University of Waterloo, and his professional affiliations include executive in residence at the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) and he is the founder of High Performance Computing Insights Canada (HPCinsights.ca).

Vice President Research
University of Toronto

Professor R. Paul Young is a renowned engineering geophysicist. He was previously Chair of U of T‘s Department of Civil Engineering. An outstanding scientist and teacher, Young was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2007. A native of Britain, Young was recruited to U of T in 2002 as the Keck Chair of Seismology and Rock Mechanics and the founding director of the Lassonde Institute, an international centre of excellence that draws on expertise across multiple disciplines within geosciences and engineering. As chair of Civil Engineering, he led the development of the department’s new framework for urban engineering, building cities that work for people. His leadership of the department was singled out for high praise by external reviewers in 2005 and 2006. He was previously chair of Earth Sciences at the University of Liverpool and head of Earth Sciences at Keele University in the U.K. He also established the Geomechanics and Rock Physics Laboratory at Queen’s University and the Rock Fracture Dynamics Laboratory at U of T. He is on the Board of several national and provincial organizations notably; Chair of TRIUMF, Canada’s National Nuclear and Particle Physics Laboratory, The Fields Institute for Mathematics, MaRS Discovery District (an organization helping to build Canada’s next generation of growth companies), MaRS Innovation (Federal Government Centre of Excellence for Commercialization of Research) and Executive Committee of the Ontario Council of University Research. During the last several years as U of T‘s Vice President, Research and Innovation, he has worked collegially with university colleagues, funding agencies, government departments and the private sector to enhance research excellence, innovation and U of T‘s international standing as one of the world’s great research intensive universities.