'E-science Opportunities for academics in the arts and humanities are great, and attention is moving their way'

October 20, 2006

Fifty years ago, IBM revolutionised computing with the launch of the world's first hard disk. It offered users the opportunity to access large amounts of data swiftly and intuitively - but at a price. It was expensive to buy and occupied a great expanse of floor space.

Social scientists were already exploiting the potential of rapid data sifting in the 1960s, but the take-up of the new information and communications technologies in the arts and humanities has been less speedy.

Since its inception in 2001, the research councils' e-Science initiative has offered - and is delivering - the prospect of a step-change across all disciplines. The opportunities are as great for academics working in the arts and humanities areas as it has been for their counterparts in the hard sciences, and the attention is moving their way.

The e-Science programme builds from the conviction that large-scale science will increasingly be carried out through distributed global collaboration across the internet. Already this is bearing fruit with real examples of advance through collaboration. Providing academics with access to very large data collections and very large-scale computing resources to make their collaboration effective can massively enhance scientific research.

But scholars and researchers in the arts, humanities and social sciences have similar demands.

The National Centre for e-Social Science, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, is advancing social science interests. The social sciences lend themselves to large-scale data collection and international collaboration.

But in the arts and humanities, the general awareness and understanding of e-science and e-science projects is still too low, and little thought had been given to how they might be adapted and applied to various disciplines.

A scoping study funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council that aims to overcome this lack of knowledge of current e-Science projects and outputs was due to be completed this summer.

Across the board, the challenge will be to make the technologies that are being developed as transparent and user-friendly as possible.

The technologies are also at the forefront of efforts to revive the interest in science at school level - which is where the great turn-off begins. Enthuse school students by harnessing the technology and more will consider science as a career.

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