The University of Southampton

Southampton to host DataDive offering charities news insights through data science

Published: 31 August 2018
Illustration
Dr Adam Hill will lead a DataDive to help charities use data to gain insight into their programmes

Physics and Astronomy at the University of Southampton, together with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and DataKind UK, will run a hackathon-style event next month delving into data and analysis for two national charities.

The DataDive will tap into powerful data science techniques being introduced to the School of Physics and Astronomy by Royal Society Entrepreneur in Residence Dr Adam Hill. The event will run on Thursday 20 and Friday 21 September, supporting the Shelter and Parkinson’s UK charities.

We spoke to Adam to find out more about the DataDive and how data science is transforming the field of astronomy:

What is a DataDive?

DataDives are high energy, hackathon-style two day events where charities and social enterprises work alongside teams of volunteer data scientists, analysts, developers and designers using data to gain insight into their programmes and to increase their impact.

DataKind UK is the charitable organisation that leads these DataDive events. They recruit charity partners and spend two months scoping out viable projects. Our upcoming DataDive in Southampton will bring together volunteers from the academic community at the University with volunteers from the Office of National Statistics to help two national charities derive data-driven answers to specific questions and challenges that they have.

What do you hope to achieve in next month’s event in Southampton?

We will have over 60 volunteers working with Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity, and Parkinson’s UK.

First and foremost I hope we achieve the charities’ goals of exploring their data. For Shelter, we aim to build models to help the charity to understand needs at a local and national level. For Parkinson’s UK, we’re going to look at the coverage and cost of hospital treatments, how Parkinson’s trained nurses are distributed across the UK, and how demand will change over the next 25 years.

As the first event of its kind at Southampton I hope it stimulates more engagement between the academic community and social projects as there are lots of skills within universities that are both expensive and in short supply within the third sector. Finally, I hope that it will act as a networking melting-pot, introducing academics of different departments to analysts and researchers from the Office of National Statistics and other government departments, seeding future productive relationships and collaborations.

Previous DataKind DataDives have had many outcomes including:
- demonstrating that there are around 140,000 young homeless people in England, contrary to official government numbers which show that there are 16,000
- streamlining a children’s hospice referral process, identifying a potential saving of up to £90,000 a year for children’s hospices across the country
- improving how Companies House collects data on company ownership and providing parliamentary evidence that contributed to the introduction of the 2018 Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill

What is your role as a data scientist at the University?

I am a data scientist in a private company, HAL24K, that works in the smart-city sector. Since April 2018, I have also been a Royal Society Entrepreneur in Residence (EiR) within the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Southampton.

This means I spend 20% of my time at the University, where I encourage and support the incorporation of data science techniques and methodologies within scientific research activities. I also support those looking to further their data science skills. One of the centre points of my original EiR proposal was to link the academic community with the charitable data science sector via DataKind UK, a data science charity that I have been actively involved with for the past few years.

What opportunities for astronomy are being presented by data science?

Data science is a multi-disciplinary field that joins together statistics, computer science and domain knowledge. It is enabled by the cheap, powerful computing resources that are available today in combination with the vast quantities of data that we are collecting in the modern world.

The role of data scientists is to use the technology and data to ask questions of business, society and science, find new ways to answer old questions and identify new opportunities for innovation.

Astronomy is entering an unprecedented age of data collection. New projects will collect massive amounts of data, which is more than any individual scientist or team could inspect by hand; the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will produce 20 TB per night! New tools and techniques that exploit machine learning and other data science tools are needed if we will extract all of the science from these ambitious new projects.

Researchers within the School of Physics and Astronomy are using machine learning to automatically classify objects in large surveys; they have used graph database technology to model galaxy merger histories; and they use advanced modelling techniques to accurately estimate the brightness of supernovae.

We’re looking for volunteers with data analysis and visualisation skills from across the University to volunteer their time and skill over the two days. If you’d like to take part, please register your interest here: https://adam66.typeform.com/to/z4QymQ

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