Two year data analytics and software contracts with world’s big science projects seen as instrumental in advancing groundbreaking medicine and materials research
27th April 2017, Tessella, Altran’s World Class Center for Analytics, has been awarded two multi-year contracts by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to develop and advance software to process, store and analyse the vast amounts of data created by neutron research facilities.
Neutron research works by firing beams of neutrons at a material and measuring how they interact with it. The data collected from these measurements holds the key to the material’s properties, and thereby allows researchers to develop new medicines and advanced materials and peer into the past of historical artefacts.
The new two year contracts, awarded following a competitive tender through the UK Government’s Digital Outcomes and Specialists Framework, will progress existing projects MANTID and IBEX. Tessella will lead the development teams on both projects, working closely with instrument scientists to identify user needs and improve software to cope with the analysis of increasing volumes of complex research data. They will upgrade software for new instruments, introduce new data collection techniques, and implement new data visualisation technologies. Tessella will also work alongside project partners to roll out the software across new facilities globally.
MANTID is an open source data reduction, analysis and visualisation programme. It takes the data collected during experiments, processes that data and presents it in a way that allows it to be easily studied, manipulated and analysed by researchers.
IBEX is a software system for instrument control, aimed at allowing scientists to achieve more accurate results from experiments through more precise control of the interaction of the beam with the studied material.
Richard Layne, Head of Transport and Big Science, Tessella says: “Data projects like this require combined understanding of the subject being studied and the nature of the data. This is complex data – scientists are not merely looking for correlations, they need tools to help them develop a deep understanding of the data, so those writing the software need a good knowledge of neutron science to ensure the end result is valuable. Tessella’s unique blend of science, software and data science skills is crucial to the success of both projects”
“From a data perspective, we need to develop software that can process huge amounts of data and convert it into a structured format that can be easily searched. MANTID is an open source project designed to be easy to use for researchers at multiple facilities, so the data must be presented in a way that is intuitive to someone outside the research team who may want to study the data. This project – with its global nature – starts with the overarching objective of how we can improve neutron science at all facilities, then looks at the best way to manage the data to do that, and only then is the software developed.”
The software and data analysis makes scientific research easier by presenting data in easy to process ways, enabling more robust research, and allowing for breakthroughs that may otherwise have been missed. It minimises scientists’ time processing data and allows them to focus on the science. In addition it provides a common framework, reducing the need to develop in house software and making scientific collaborations easier and lower cost.
A neutron or muon instrument is built from a large number of cooperating hardware devices and detectors. IBEX orchestrates these devices, under the direction of a scientist, to perform experiments. It is the devices and detectors that generate the raw data that is, ultimately, processed by MANTID. As technology develops, scientists wish to exploit new device capabilities to perform new types of measurement or more sophisticated experiments. The control system needs to keep up with such technological advances and provide scientists with the means to control and fully exploit the available hardware. Tessella has worked closely with STFC’s software developers and scientists to design IBEX as a flexible platform capable of supporting experiments at STFC’s ISIS neutron and muon beam research facility for many years to come.
Mantid and IBEX began with the STFC’s ISIS Neutron facility at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. The success of Mantid has led to the uptake of the software framework in other global research facilities. The new phase of these projects will include programmes to spread their impact globally across research facilities.