| Independent Project |
Tech Savvy Astronomer is about changing the way we approach modern day, data–intensive astronomy research. It’s about developing innovative ideas, projects and products that challenge the status quo. It's also about creating a new culture of tech savvy astronomers, equipped with industry standard tech skills to complement scientific computing and domain specific data analysis expertise. Most importantly, it's about letting go of preconceived ideas, thinking creatively, and joining a growing community of research astronomers, instrument scientists, and freelance software developers and consultants who like to think outside the box. The tech savvy philosophy is in many ways, similar to human centred design principles.
By understanding astronomers tech needs, we can better prepare researchers — from all data–intensive research disciplines — for successful careers outside of academia. The lack of tenure track, and research and development positions within astronomy makes the technology sector a very attractive alternative, particularly for researchers with strong scientific computing and python programming skills. Across Europe, USA, & Australia, specialised researchers with strong mathematical and analytical skills are highly sought after for a variety of roles in the business and technology sectors, such as data scientists, analysts, technical product and program development mangers, and leaders of data incubators and labs.
Tech Savvy Astronomer help researchers discover some of the most useful and widely used tools in the technology sector. Recommendations come from astronomers that are currently developing new tools to handle the anticipated complex datasets from the next-generation telescopes and science surveys, as well as astronomers, instrument scientists and web developers who have successfully moved into the tech industry.
The website is based around a directory of useful tools that researchers can use as part of their every day research, or to develop innovative tools for the community, or small web-based projects that showcase their research. Where possible I've included links to useful tutorials and online help. Tools are loosely grouped into categories – General Tools, Web Design, Data Visualisation tools, Website Hosting, Astronomy Tools – based on their core function. The project was born from the inaugural .Astronomy7 – Day Zero tech skills training day. I was the lead organiser for this event and produced the accompanying Web Development & Research Tools for Astronomers (PDF, 2MB) guide.
Astronomy Australia Ltd (AAL)
| Advisory Work |
In December 2015, I joined AAL's Astronomy e-Research Advisory Committee (AeRAC). Members are appointed by the AAL Board and requested to serve for two-years. AeRAC monitors and assesses the performance of key high performance computing (HPC) facilities and eResearch projects (primarily ASVO projects) funded by AAL, identifies gaps in eResearch access (e.g. cloud storage & compute nodes), advises AAL on how to progress its vision of federated national astronomy datasets, keeps AAL apprised of emerging developments and opportunities, and provides strategic advice accordingly.
From October 2015 to August 2016, I also served on the Computing Infrastructure Planning Working Group (CIPWG). CIPWG was a special (temporary) working established specifically to develop a 5-year plan (from July 2016), for scientific computing & infrastructure investments in accordance with the Academy of Science's 2016 – 2025 Australian Astronomy Decadal Plan. I also contributed to the e–Science Working Group report which fed into the decadal plan. As part of the CIPWG, I was responsible for drafting key recommendations around scientific computing training and support; specifically, recommending strategies (and providing an estimate of the level of investment required) to provide data science, HPC, and tech skills training to the astronomy community, that maximised current resources and leveraged other community initiatives. The final CIPWG report was published on the AAL website in October 2016. It was distributed throughout the community, and following a lengthy tender process, the Astronomy Data and Computing Service (ADACS) initiative (funded at a level of $1–1.5M annually. AeRAC is currently responsible for advising AAL on all matters related to ADACS's strategic direction, and makes recommendations about the level of investment required for a sustainable service and to ensure future growth.
Current AeRAC membership*:
A/Prof Chris Power – ARC Future Fellow & AeRAC Chair, University of Western Australia (until 31 December 2018)
Dr. Greg Poole – ADACS Project Scientist, Swinburne University of Technology (until 31 December 2017*)
Dr. Arna Karick – e-Research Consultant (Swinburne) / Freelance Computing & Data Consultant (until 31 December 2017*)
Prof. Alex Heger, Astrophysicist, Monash University (until 31 December 2017*)
Prof. Andreas Wicenec, Director – Data Intensive Astronomy, University of Western Australia (until 31 December 2018)
Dr. Katrina Sealey, Head of IT, Australian Astronomical Observatory – AAO (until 31 December 2018)
Prof. Mark Krumholz, Theoretical & Computational Astrophysicist, Australian National University, until 31 December 2018)
Dr. Matthew Whiting, Acting Group Leader - ASKAP Computing, CSIRO (until 31 December 2018)
Dr. Ben Evans, Associate Director, Research Engagement and Initiatives, National Computing Infrastructure –NCI (ex-officio)
Prof. Jarrod Hurley, OzSTAR Supercomputer Manager, Swinburne University of Technology (ex-officio)
Dr. Jenni Harrison, Director of Strategic Projects, Communication & Engagement, Pawsey Supercomputing Facility (ex-officio)
Prof. Chris Tinney, AAL Board representative (ex-officio)
*requested by the Board to continue serving for an additional 6 months – until May 2018
CIPWG was comprised of members of AeRAC, plus:
Prof. Matthew Bailes, Director, ARC CoE of Gravitational Wave Astronomy (OzGrav) – Former AeRAC & CIPWG Chair
Prof. Orsola De Marco, Astrophysicist, Macquarie University
Dr. Simon O'Toole, Project Scientist for AAO Data Central, Australian Astronomical Observatory – AAO
ARC CoE for Gravitational Wave Discovery
| Freelance Consulting |
Australian Research Council (ARC) Centres of Excellence are prestigious research centres that undertake highly innovative and world-leading research of high international standing and impact. In September 2016, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav) was awarded $31.3 million. Over the next 7 years it will capitalise on the first detections of gravitational waves to understand the extreme physics of black holes and warped space-time. I worked on a number of projects with OzGrav as an external consultant, prior to the centre receiving funding (May 2016), and shortly after it began operations (February 2017).
I re-structured and re-designed the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery’s (OzGrav) final pitch presentation to the ARC (prior to being funded), providing greater clarity around management/advisory structures, technical milestones, and plans for an effective gender equity strategy. Shortly after OzGrav began operations I worked with OzGrav's Chief Operating Officer (COO) to design & develop the new website. I also worked with the COO, OzGrav's Education & Outreach Program Leads, and LIGO Outreach Partners to develop a ~$400K proposal for citizen science project funding.
Public Speaking, Research Talks & Tech Workshops
Over the past decade I've given numerous invited seminar & contributed conference talks, seminars, and workshops, throughout the US, Europe, and Australia. The majority of these have focussed on astronomy research and building tech savvy research communities. I've also given talks about best practice in research data management, scientific computing, how to get the most out of research hack days, and on the benefits of building a tech savvy research community.
At Swinburne I presented a number of high-level research strategy and research infrastructure talks, at faculty committee meeting, research technology forums and for Swinburne Research and the Deputy Vice Chancellors's research planning days. I have also hosted numerous workshops focussed on research tech skills, scientific computing, and creative coding.
I also love talking about future technologies and the next generation ground and space–based astronomy facilities. The power of interactive story telling using historical datasets, and grassroots initiatives such as .Astronomy (pronounced "dot astronomy"), and Random Hacks of Kindness.
During the past two years, I've the pleasure of speaking at various tech, software and web focussed conferences such as Future Assembly 2016 (Melbourne – AU), .Astronomy8 (Oxford – UK), ADASS XXVI (Trieste – Italy), and .Astronomy9 (Cape Town – South Africa). A selection of talks are available on Speaker Deck.
"My pick for talks today – How will AI shape the Future of Education, Data–Driven Discovery and the Most Ambitious Telescopes Ever Built, and The Future of Everything''
– Xavier Ho, Data-driven Design Engineer (CSIRO)
Future Assembly 2016
Please contact me if you would like me to speak at a conference, a local event, meet-up group, seminar or other gathering.
Data-Driven Discovery & The Most Ambitious Telescopes Ever Built
Launching in 2018, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will be the premier space observatory, replacing the Hubble Space Telescope and inspiring a new generation. High up in the foothills of the Andes, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will image the entire night sky, every few days, for an entire decade. In Australia and South Africa, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) — the ultimate big-data project — will be be largest and most technologically challenging radio-telescope ever constructed. The dishes of the SKA will produce 10 times the global internet traffic, will use enough optical fibre to wrap twice around the Earth!, and will be so sensitive that it will be able to detect an airport radar on a planet tens of light years away! In this talk l show you how these "time machines" enable to astronomers to study the dynamic universe in unprecedented detail, and allow us see all the way back to where it began. Audiences will also gain insight into some of the mammoth technological and computational challenges faced by engineers, instrument scientists, data wranglers, that need to be solved first.
When Academia Meets Tech: The Power of Savvy Research Communities
The rise of data science in the technology industry and its prevalence in academia is creating a new generation of tech savvy astronomers, eager to explore new approaches and embrace new techniques and tools and to manipulate, explore, analyse, and interpret complex datasets.
Through tech-focussed astronomy conferences, researchers now have a broader range of research, programming and software development skills in their arsenal than traditionally needed for everyday astronomy research and data analysis. The result is highly skilled network of tech-savvy astronomers, that have the ability to contribute to the growth of data-intensive capability, for example better-handing of SKA, LSST and JWST data processing and products, data analysis and web–based tools to maximise early science discoveries and societal impact.
Tech savvy researcher communities also serve as a conduit to the tech industry. Each year the Astro Hack Week and .Astronomy (pronounced "dot astro"), conferences bring together astronomers, researchers, software developers, technologists, science communicators and educators to discuss issues around scientific computing and astronomy on the web. They provide a forum for engaging with tech companies – engagement includes Google, GitHub & Microsoft Research, and in some cases kickstarting ongoing grassroots collaboration. They also help facilitate career transition from academia into data science and other tech roles within industry.
Storytelling with Data: Interactive Visualisation of the Apollo Mission
NASA's Apollo program ran from 1961 to 1975 and included both manned and unmanned space missions. These missions culminated with the series of first manned Moon landings between 1969 and 1972. There exists a rich historical dataset around these missions, including photographic images, news articles and data on the various rocket technologies.
Interactive data visualisations using the D3.js libraries, and TimelineJS, enable us to recreate some of these fantastic stories, and bring the drama back to life for a new generation.
Scientific Papers, Proposals & Reports
I've co-authored numerous scientific research papers in high-impact journals. You can find my refereed publications and conference proceedings on the SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS), the arXiv e-prints server, or on Google Scholar.
I've also written consultation and discussion papers, prepared responses to consultation papers and government reports, drafted terms of reference, working group reports, research communication summaries, policies and policy guidelines, technical reports, and documentation for software and research infrastructure services.
I wrote Swinburne University of Technology's policy and accompanying guidelines for the Management of Research Data and co-authored the Our Swinburne Institutes Model: Proposal, with the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research & Development). The proposal is a detailed overview of the new Swinburne Institutes Model which came into effect mid–2016 with the establishment of five brand new research institutes – Data Science, Heath Innovation, Smart Cities, Social Innovation, and Manufacturing Futures – to foster interdisciplinary collaboration.
Creative Coding, Data Visualisation & Web Projects
| Independent Projects |
In August 2016, I attended a week-long summer school hosted by the Berkeley Institute for Data Science (BIDS) & GitHub. The focus was on effective computing, Bayesian statistics, machine-learning algorithms, and optimisation and sampling. Although the concepts were presented in an astronomy context using, in most cases astronomical data, the methodologies used were general enough for almost any scientific dataset. As part of the workshop I began a collaborative project to create a series of Simple Database tutorials for Pythonic Astronomers for graduate level researchers. I usually keep all my non–astronomy coding projects on GitHub.
I've started creating more general python (scikit-learn, matplotlib, numpy etc.) based tutorials, based on other projects that were pitched during the week. The first of these is a tutorial for Creating Color Palettes from Apollo Project (or any RGB) Images.
#dotastro: Where Astronomy Meets Tech
| Conference Series |
.Astronomy (dotastro) was created in 2008 by Robert Simpson, along with Alasdair Allan, Sarah Kendrew, Chris Lintott, Stuart Lowe, Carolina Odman Govender, Arfon Smith and others. I like to think that it started out as a small group of renegade astronomers who lamented the lack of blue sky thinking and did something about it. Based on my experience this seems like a fairly good description, particularly since of number of .Astronomy founders were instrumental to building the Zooniverse (a unique model where research is powered by citizen scientist's). Over the years .Astronomy has grown into a tight community of astronomers who have a passion for creative coding. Conferences are deliberately kept small, roughly 50 participants are selected based on application. Astro Hack Week has a similar model, which has also proven to work well. Spin-off astronomy hack days are now a regular feature of the National Astronomy Meetings in the UK (NAMhack) and the annual American Astronomical Society conference (check out#AAS225 & #hackaas).
I organised the 2015 .Astronomy7 conference in collaboration with Amanda Bauer (@astropixie), Vanessa Moss (@cosmicpudding), James Allen (@j_t_allen), and Rob Hollow (@roberthollow). I also put together the pre-conference Day Zero research training day. The idea was to We aim to introduce a range of skills that will not only be useful for the Hack Day, but for astronomy research in general. I also created the first .Astronomy Day Zero Guide: Web Development & Research Tools for Astronomers. This has become a standard resource and modified for subsequent conference. It was also the motivation for creating the techsavvyastronomer.io website
Since I first attended .Astronomy6 back in 2014, I've slowly been building up my web development skills, starting with simple projects and then challenging myself to understand all aspects of development (back–end, front-end, design, UX/UI). I really enjoy visualising data in creative ways and telling stories through data. Projects that have been written up as blog posts can been found here, or on GitHub.
This year, I'm thrilled to be attending .Astronomy9 as an invited speaker. I will be talking about; Web Technologies for Data-Driven Astronomy & Big-Data Science.
One of the most challenging questions in observational astronomy is [still...] , how do clusters of galaxies evolve? How significant is the cluster environment, and what transformational and star formation processes govern the evolution of individual galaxies. For decades astronomers have been studying this problem and while we have certainly come a long way there is still much to understand. My expertise is working with high-resolution imaging and spectral data and developing data analysis routines and pipelines for large datasets.
In 2009 I moved to Liverpool and joined the HST/ACS Coma Cluster Treasury Survey. In November 2011, I moved to the University of Oxford to work with Roger Davies and Davor Krajnovic on a follow-up observations for the Atlas3D Galaxy Project. The goal was to model the three dimensional structure of galaxies, using high-resolution archival images from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), Prior to this work, the project team had focussed on understanding the kinematic properties, relying only on the molecular and gas distribution of galaxies. That data was obtained using the SAURON optical integral-field spectrograph on the William Herschel Telescope (WHT). Our paper; ATLAS3D Project – XXIII: Angular momentum and nuclear surface brightness profiles, was published in 2013.
e-Research at Swinburne
| Strategy & Building Capability |
My e-Research Consultant role at Swinburne Research (Feb 2013 – Feb 2016) was quite varied. I consulted on a wide range of e-Research infrastructure projects with Research Information Services and Swinburne ITS, developed data management policies and procedures, set up systems that promote and enable best practise in research data management, initiated grassroots initiatives that promote industry skills for researchers and alternative career paths, and setup software and development support for researchers.
As part of the Swinburne/ANDS Metadata Stores Project I developed the University's policies and guidelines concerning research integrity and data management, and meeting compliance requirements set by the Australian Research Council (ARC) and National Heath and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
Typically, e-Research roles vary across Australian universities. The majority of my work was done in collaboration with the PVC (Research), PVC (digital Frontiers), DVC (Research & Development), and the Research Information Services team. By virtue of my research background, I've also maintained strong ties with Swinburne's Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing (CAS). My focus has always been on identifying and finding solutions to the current (and potential) issues that negatively impact data-intensive — "big data” — research.
Swinburne/ANDS Metadata Stores Project
In February 2013 I joined Swinburne as a Research Data Analyst/Librarian as part of the Swinburne ANDS Metadata Stores Project. Swinburne had successfully obtained funding from the Australian National Data Service (ANDS) for the development of MyTardis and ReDBox research data management systems, that would facilitate the storage and open access to select astronomy, atom optics and neuroscience datasets. I was responsible for overseeing the development and implementation of two MyTardis systems (for brain imaging and atom optics) and Swin ReDBox research metadata store. I also worked on the customisation and testing of the ReDBox system and the integration with Research Data Australia and the National Library Archive.
The overall goal of the initiative was to implement a number of systems with the potential to support university-wide solutions for the discovery, sharing and re-use of rich data collections. Swinburne's research data collections would also be fed directly to Research Data Australia, the primary data discovery service of ANDS.
Swinburne Chapter – The Hacker Within (THW)
The Hacker Within began as a student organisation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is now reborn as a collection of such chapters around the world. Active chapters include Wisconsin, Berkeley, Yale, and Melbourne (Swinburne University of Technology). Each of the chapters convenes a community of researchers, at all levels of their education and training, to share their knowledge and best practices in scientific computing to accomplish their work.
Following a working visit to Berkeley Institute of Data Science, I launched Swinburne Hacker Within (SHW) in April 2015, as a weekly, multi-disciplinary, digital technology meet-up. The goal was to establish a forum for PhD students, postdoctoral researchers & academic staff, and research & data librarians, to discuss issues around "big-data" research, collaborative coding, the value of open–data, copyright and ownership of data, and reproducible science. It was also forum for sharing & discovering new tools, leading or participating in tutorials, and creating hack projects with researchers from other disciplines. Topics included IPython & Jupyter Notebooks, Julia programming, D3js data-visualisation, version control with git & GitHub, interactive plotting, mapping with Carto, crisis mapping for disaster relief, creating websites for GitHub projects, SQL, and relational databases.
Two reasons why The Hacker Within initiative is important:
To prepare researchers for alternative careers in the technology industry. The rise of fellowship programs, for example Insight Data Fellows and Science to Data Science, enable scientists to learn the industry specific skills needed to work in the growing field of big data at leading companies. With new skills in data science and software development, scientists with analytical backgrounds are now in great demand on the European and US job market and are being offered jobs in leading tech-companies.
The tenets of scientific research (e.g. data control, reproducibility, and peer review) suffer in projects that fail to make use of current development tools such as version control, testing, and comprehensive/automatic documentation. To avoid these pitfalls, the numerous Hacker Within Chapters exist for the purpose of sharing skills and best practices for computational scientific applications.
University Institutes Model
During my last 6 months at Swinburne, I worked closely with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Development) as project manager to implement the new Swinburne Institutes Model. This bold and exciting plan will help Swinburne to reach its full potential, by aligning its efforts more closely with the emerging national research and innovation priorities, growth industry sectors, and strategic research engagement opportunities in industry and business.
The Swinburne research institutes institutes will work at the frontiers of research and innovation, with multidisciplinary teams tackling big challenges with potential for transformative economic and social impact. They cover a diverse range of disciplines – Data Science, Health Innovation, Smart Cities, Social Innovation & Manufacturing Futures. Each institute is set up to foster interdisciplinary collaboration within faculties, research centres, researchers in industry, business and community. Their approach is outward oriented, and outcomes and impact focused.