Discovering data science | Get to know STFC’s Chief Data Scientist
06 Feb 2017
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Recently appointed STFC’s Chief Data Scientist, Tony Hey is assisting in the development of STFC’s strategy for data-intensive science and high performance computing

 

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​Although statistics and data analysis are not new fields, working with big data like we do at the Hartree Centre is a career that has only really “taken off” over the last decade or so. So how did our current data experts get to where they are now? We speak to the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)’s Chief Data Scientist, Tony Hey, to find out more about his career journey from physics student to data specialist.

Recently appointed STFC’s Chief Data Scientist, Tony Hey is assisting in the development of STFC’s strategy for data-intensive science and high performance computing. His work spans many of the organisations data rich facilities, but one of the key challenges is to assist the Hartree Centre in its cognitive computing and big data collaboration with IBM Research. “The area of cognitive computing is particularly exciting as it is a very active area of research for many companies.”

So how did he get here? Well, it all started with Fred Hoyle’s book ‘The Nature of the Universe’, which first sparked a young Tony Hey’s interest in science. “Hoyle’s book, which was based on some lectures he had given on the BBC, explained how the heavy elements that made up the Earth had been made in supernova. With his Steady State theory of continuous mass creation and his science fiction book ‘The Black Cloud’, Hoyle was one of my earliest inspirations”, explains Tony.

At the time of reading, Tony was already a teenager and as a result, he chose to focus on physics, chemistry and maths from then on. “This was not with a particular career in mind, other than a vague wish to be some sort of scientist,” explains Tony. “These subjects were fascinating and there was so much to know.”

Tony continued his education at Worcester College at The University of Oxford. Specialising in theoretical and particle physics, he went on to complete post-docs at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and CERN. He then joined the Physics Department at the University of Southampton. As his research interests moved towards parallel computing message-passing systems, Tony transferred to the Electronics and Computer Science Department. While there, he created a leading UK research group in parallel computing.

Tony served as Director of the UK’s e-Science initiative from 2001–2005, helping to build a new scientific infrastructure for collaborative, multidisciplinary, data-intensive research.

In 2005, Tony was awarded a CBE for his services to science, and became Vice President in Microsoft Research shortly afterward. Tony was responsible for collaborative university research engagements and also managed the multidisciplinary e-Science Research Group within Microsoft Research which focused on computational genomics, new scientific visualization technologies, and environmental research.

In January 2011, Tony was delighted to be invited to speak at TEDxCaltech, discussing his favourite computer scientist Richard Feynman, Nobel Laureate, Caltech physics professor, iconoclast, visionary, and all-around "curious character”. You can find the full TEDx talk below:

 

In his spare time, Tony loves reading, hiking and watching sport. Tony also has a passionate interest in communicating the excitement of science to young people. “I am a trustee of the Winchester Science Centre and I have written several ‘popular’ STEM books – on quantum mechanics, on relativity and on computer science.

“If I hadn’t followed this career path, I would definitely still have been working in science… perhaps as a university professor!”

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