Nick Buck is to set up the world's largest longitudinal household panel survey with a £15.5 million grant from the Economic and Social Research Council.
The deputy director of Essex University's Institute for Social and Economic Research will collect data at regular intervals over several years about the same 90,000 individuals from a sample of 40,000 households.
The study will eclipse the current British Household Panel Survey four times over and is three or four times bigger than the next largest survey run for scientific purposes anywhere in the world, Professor Buck said.
"It's the biggest ESRC grant ever and the first social science grant from the Office of Science and Innovation's large science facilities fund. It builds on the BHPS, which we've been running for 17 years," he said.
"Because of the survey's size, we will be able to look at very small groups with very specific issues, problems or policy concerns more easily. There are 250 lone-parent families in the BHPS, but the new survey will have as many as 1,500. You can do a lot more to understand sources of difficulties or outcomes within those groups."
For Professor Buck, a particularly interesting aspect of the new survey is that it will build on links between social, medical and biological science.
"It will cover the socioeconomics of individuals but also health measurements and other biomarkers," he said. He hopes to build other research projects from the survey to explore these issues. Up to 2,000 researchers worldwide could potentially work on the data.
The survey will also capture significant data on ethnic minority groups that other surveys have failed to profile. "There hasn't really been a good longitudinal survey of them, going back to them repeatedly and finding out how their lives are changing. That will be really important research,"
Professor Buck said.
The first wave of data for the survey should be collected as soon as the end of 2008 - very soon for a survey of this size - and findings should emerge by 2011.