The University of Reading has appointed the inaugural CEO of its £12m environmental science big data and analysis centre.
Chief executive Colin McKinnon joins the Institute for Environmental Analytics from Enscite, a consultancy that gives advice to manufacturing firms.
McKinnon previously worked for the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), where he was a board director.
McKinnon said: “There is huge potential for the UK to lead the environmental informatics field.
"My vision is for the Institute to be central to this – engaging with industry in application-led, near market research and development; spinning off new businesses; training the next generation of environmental science entrepreneurs; and providing government with data-driven knowledge to support decision-making in environmental policy fields”.
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Environmental analysis with big data
Environmental informatics uses computer modelling to analyse the Earth’s environment and make predictions. The institute will draw on fundamental research at the University of Reading, and at the Universities of Oxford and Surrey, marrying datasets, and their analysis and visualisation, to inform policy and build commercial applications.
McKinnon said: “For example, combining data from embedded sensors in riverbeds, satellite data and weather forecasting could be used to inform policy in respect of likely flooding patterns”.
He also anticipates software and consulting companies emerging from the institute as it evolves as an incubator.
McKinnon said: "The institute will initially focus on getting the right people in place who can act as an interface between fundamental research and commercial applications; account managers who can develop relations with our partners.
"And we might take on secondees from partners, which include Microsoft.”
Steve Mithen, deputy vice chancellor of the University of Reading, said: “Colin McKinnon brings invaluable experience of growing new ventures and championing collaboration between industry and academia. He is a proven leader with the skills and business vision to take the Institute forward.
“Climate and environmental change already has an impact on every aspect of business and society and we are in an unprecedented time of opportunity for UK businesses in this space.
"The Institute will act as a conduit between organisations spanning the whole environmental analytics community, pulling together expertise to create value and growth for the UK. It will focus on developing the tools, techniques and people to make the UK a world leader in using environmental big data for commercial applications.”
Reading founded the institute in January 2015. It is funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), which put in £5.6m from its Catalyst Fund. The rest comes from partners, who include Lighthill Risk Network, The Met Office, Microsoft UK, the National Centre for Earth Observation, the University of Oxford, Sainsbury’s, the Satellite Applications Catapult, the Science and Technologies Facilities Council, the University of Surrey and Telespazio Vega.
The university said it hopes to “enable cutting-edge environmental research to be translated into services that can help businesses adapt to environmental pressures, including the extreme events and severe weather conditions we have seen in the UK in recent years”.