UK boosts its resilience to global challenges

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New funding of £1.2 million will help underpin the UK’s response to infrastructure challenges using digital platforms.

The UK’s ability to respond to global challenges including climate change, increased energy demands and infrastructure growth will be enhanced thanks to a £1.2 million investment.

The funding, from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), will further develop the Data and Analytics Facility for National Infrastructure (DAFNI) facility.

DAFNI is officially launched today (5 July) at a virtual event unveiling its recent advancements and how it will revolutionise infrastructure research across the UK.

Responding to infrastructure challenges

With the help of the investment, DAFNI will enhance scientists’ ability to analyse and model the challenges posed by building:

  • new roads
  • new housing
  • other infrastructure improvements.

DAFNI is located at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire.

Scientists using DAFNI will be able to build on its commitment to changing and sustainable infrastructure needs for major projects. These include:

The investment also marks the beginning of training and development for future generations of infrastructure engineers.

Complexity of data

DAFNI is a specially designed computational platform hosted and managed by STFC that enables researchers to collaborate and gain faster results using:

  • different data sources
  • high performance computing
  • data analytics
  • data visualisations
  • the ability to link results from different computer models.

The new funding is part of the EPSRC Resource-Only Strategic Equipment (ROSE) fund and will enable DAFNI to:

  • increase its user base across current and additional universities across the UK
  • improve skills and develop the next generation of infrastructure engineers through centres for doctoral training and other opportunities
  • underpin the development of a digital blueprint of the UK’s infrastructure services, for example, transport, water, energy, environment and digital communications
  • encourage multidisciplinary research across infrastructure sectors and research areas
  • develop partnerships between government and industry.

Advancing research and innovation

The UK’s investment in digital research infrastructure supports a range of fields such as:

  • large scale engineering simulations
  • fusion energy
  • frontier space
  • bio-simulations
  • artificial intelligence.

STFC’s Scientific Data Centre provides UK scientists with the tools to interpret and manage the huge amounts of data generated by research.

The UK government recently announced an investment of £17 million to enable researchers to harness the full power of modern digital platforms, tools and techniques, including net zero computing.

Planning for the future

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser said:

There is a continuous need for the UK to adapt to changing environments and plan for the infrastructure demands of the future.

With major investment in infrastructure planned for the coming years it is crucial that we make the best possible decisions about how to meet the needs of communities across the UK.

DAFNI has a major role to play by providing the high-quality data and analytical tools needed to design infrastructure that works with everyone and for everyone.

It is a prime example of how transformative technologies can be harnessed to support an inclusive and sustainable knowledge economy.

Game-changing services

Professor Jim Hall, Chair of the DAFNI governance board, said:

Following four years of development, the DAFNI platform is now ready to deliver game-changing computational and data services to the community researching into infrastructure systems, allowing more complex and more detailed modelling to take place in universities across the UK, helping to inform government policy at local and national model, on areas from decisions on housing stock type and size to new road and transport links, flood defences and climate change mitigation measures.

It allows researchers in fields such as transport, energy, population and flooding to more quickly and accurately analyse and research questions such as: how can we protect a city centre from river flooding, where should we site a new railway station, how can we better model climate and environmental impacts on our economy, society and infrastructure?

Next generation of researchers

Dr Brian Matthews, STFC Scientific Computing Department and DAFNI lead for this next phase, said:

The DAFNI platform offers UK researchers a place to share their work and collaborate to study rich scenarios where changes in one area effect other areas.

This might be the impact of climate change on the flooding in cities, or how new railways might affect where people live and work.

We are looking forward to the opportunity in this new grant, to expand the number of researchers who are able to use the platform in new and innovative ways, and to extend the functionality we can offer to those researchers.

We are particularly excited to work with students in centres for doctoral training, enabling the digital expertise of the next generation of researchers in engineering and environment.

Their skills will be vital so that the UK’s researchers can really address many of the UK’s challenges ahead such as net zero carbon emissions and rebuilding the economy after COVID.

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