Malcolm Atkinson


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I began in 1970 to try to make advanced use of data easier for programmers and for advanced users who are not computer scientists.  This involves distributed systems, databases, programming languages, system architectures and strategies to remove the conceptual barriers that impede use.  Seeking a balanced, sustainable and long-term treatment of this complex and growing issue, currently called "big data" or "data science", remains a passion.  I pursue this in collaboration with researchers in Earth sciences, Environmental sciences, Medicine and Computing Science from five continents.


1974 PhD Cambridge University

1967 Diploma in Computer Science (with Distinction) Cambridge University

1966 BA (first class honours) Cambridge University


The most challenging issues facing society, organisations and individuals today are to make better quality and timely decisions based on the available data and models. All too often this is not achieved. As a computer scientist, I believe that this under-achievement is a result of insufficient understanding in our profession of the process of going from the original data to knowledge delivered in a form that is actionable. My research explores the whole system and develops principles and methods that will be useful for knowledge discovery in the complex and changing context of real-world systems. The only way of approaching this is to engage with people who have the data and are seeking the knowledge, working with them jointly developing ideas and their implementation, and then assessing success and analysing failures to distil principles and common solutions. These are further tested in the next iteration of collaborative work.

I lead the Data-Intensive Research Group in order to pursue these research goals. Currently, in our projects, we are working with Earth scientists using seismology, volcanology and rock-physics data, in EU and NERC funded projects. We are also engaged in the EU ENVRI project that is looking for common requirements for all ten environmental research infrastructures. We also work on medical and biological data, recently with the SINAPSE and DECIPHER projects. A recent European project took a new look at the form of workflows designing new high-level notations that provide more information about the semantics and admit multiple scalable enactment mechanisms. This work led to the book "The DATA Bonanza - Improving Knowledge Discovery in Science, Engineering, and Business" that draws on experience since 1970 of helping Engineers, Scientists and Companies make better use of their data.

Ten years of directing the e-Science Institute, that ended in 2011, and 6 years as UK e-Science Envoy (from 2006) funded by an EPSRC Senior Research Fellowship, provided opportunity for gathering leading researchers to address these data challenges, to visit top research centres world wide and to gain experience from a dozen projects. Prior to returning to the University of Edinburgh in 2001, to direct the National e-Science Centre, I was professor at the University of Glasgow and have conducted research and taught in five other universities, including Cambridge, Rangoon, and Philadelphia, with sabbaticals in two companies' research centres.


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