Research faces 'perfect storm' of data

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Scientific research is facing a revolution caused by increases in computational power and methods, according to leading academics.

Professor Omar Ghattas, from the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Geological Sciences at the University Of Texas, said that historic opportunities have arisen to solve some of the world's biggest problems using new computational power.

"There is a coming golden age of computational science in which the 21st century will witness solutions to grand challenges in society," he said at the King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (Kaust) IT summit in Dharha, Saudi Arabia.

"This has not yet happened because the causes of the problems are complex and non-linear and cannot be addressed without maths modelling and computer simulations. It just cannot be done by traditional methods like observation."

Professor Ghattas explained that the academic community is building a " perfect storm" of low-cost computer hardware, better software and improved mathematical algorithms.

Combined with more accurate mathematical models, this 'storm' will prompt radical changes in research. "This is something that Kaust could capitalise on, " he said.

"It is a great opportunity to seize leadership, and the cost is very small. You can buy a petascale system for $50m, which is nothing in comparison to the Large Hadron Collider. It is barely 50 Superbowl ads!"

Professor Ghattas added that the new Kaust university had a unique opportunity to encourage interdisciplinary research, and that too many universities are locked into departments that never work together.

Other academics agreed that computation systems will become increasingly vit al to future scientific research, as the sheer volume of data is making high-level computing a must.

"You cannot do climate modelling or map galaxies without large scale computing power," said Dr Dan Reed, director of the Renaissance Computing Institute. "Scientists are drowning in data and computer science is necessary to help."

Dr Reed explained that over the next 10 years research will not be published in academic journals, but will go online and be supported by data stores and wikis from other scientists who could share the data to make new discoveries.

"The way of publishing papers is ridiculous," said Dr Werner Vogels, chief technology officer at Amazon.

"Only successful research is published and we learn the most from failed research. These blogs and wikis would go a long way to helping progress."

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