PhD researcher Guy Beech sets his sights on a common standard for the recording, storage and retrieval of the big data being used by the research, space and environmental industries

UNIVERSITY of Huddersfield researcher Guy Beech is a man on a mission – to get global computers “talking” freely to each other, sharing databases that are now too vast to be analysed by humans.  He has been spreading his ideas at conferences in the UK and overseas to audiences of leading space scientists.

Guy – who combines PhD research with his role as a Senior IT officer and computer integrations specialist at the University – presented his work at the three-day SKA Science Meeting, convened next to the Jodrell Bank Observatory at Macclesfield.  It contains the SKA Global Headquarters, which will oversee the Square Kilometre Array, a multi-purpose radio telescope that will help astrophysicists develop a greater understanding of the universe.

The focus of Guy Beech’s research is to develop a standardised format for saving and retrieving astronomical data and also enable computer systems to recognise existing data, with no need for human interpretation.

Currently, there is no common standard for the recording, storage and retrieval of the data being used by the research, space and environmental industries, he states.  There is therefore an urgent need for a reliable and cost effective method to do this.

In order to enhance automation between systems, he is deploying semantic technologies and his PhD supervisor is the University of Huddersfield’s Professor Grigoris Antoniou, a leading expert in the field.

“Disparate systems cause difficulties in automating data analysis,” states the PhD researcher.  “The huge amount of data being constantly captured by modern instruments – for example optical and infra-red telescopes – is now too great to be analysed by humans.  For it to be of any value, it needs to be initially analysed by computers,” he continues.

“Setting standards of data storage structures with semantic capability enables faster and more accurate analysis – saving a lot of money and reducing errors.  Effectively computers would be able to interpret and understand each other’s data without human assistance or intervention.”

To accomplish this, he is exploring the use of an XML schema that would allow data to be shared and reused by a common framework provided by a semantic web that enables IT systems to understand automatically the meaning of data stored across many different repositories.

His work has been described in an article titled Harnessing astronomical data that appeared in the University of Huddersfield’s Discover magazine.  Since that publication, he has disseminated his ideas at scientific conferences that include a European Week of Astronomy and Space Science event in Liverpool and the Conference on Big Data from Space in Tenerife.

Guy Beech’s PhD research is a continuation of a project he carried out for his Master’s in Computer Science and Informatics at the University.  Astronomy is his main area of interest, but his concepts apply to many fields, such as medicine and the law, that have large databases in differing formats.