Research Associate Iain Emsley

Iain Emsley

Research Associate Iain Emsley talks about re-learning programming, software sustainability and sonification...

When did you start at the Centre and what was your first role here?

I started in July 2013 as a Research Associate on the Cluster of Research Infrastructures and Synergies for Physics (CRISP) project for Professor David Wallom.

What is your background?

My first degree is in English Literature and Language and I ended up working in bookselling and publishing for a while, including a stint at Forbidden Planet as a buyer. At a friend's suggestion, I moved into coding as a contractor at various places such as the e-Science department at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, financial services, and Janet, before ending up here.

It was a challenging time where I taught myself how to programme again (having originally learned some Basic on a BBC B but not been encouraged to keep it up) and moving through PHP, Perl, Java, and into Python. Along the way, I slowly moved from web development into infrastructure.

Having recently finished some work on the Square Kilometre Array for our Scientific Computing department, I am currently working on the Workset Creation for Scholarly Analysis project, Software Sustainability Institute (SSI) and a haptic / audio project with the University of Oxford Museums to make art more accessible to blind and partially sighted people. On top of that, I am finishing a dissertation for an MSc in Software and Systems Engineering in the Department of Computer Science.

Summarise the research you are doing / your research interests in a few sentences.

Currently I am working on supporting discovery of information in large digital libraries, to help users find relevant information in a number of ways.

My research in sonification currently focuses on the software engineering aspects for the obvious reason of the dissertation but is changing to look at sustainability and reproducibility issues in representing information across different media.

As a result of the museums project, I am becoming more aware of the engineering issues for alternative interfaces, such as touch and audio, and their effect on users.

Why is this important (to the scientific community / the world at large)?

Sustainability and reproducibility issues are key to digital research and software. My work with the Software Sustainability Institute (SSI), including a forthcoming Docker workshop, has made more aware of the issues and supporting colleagues to implement sustainability and reproducibility. The work with sonification and museums has got me involved with newer interfaces and challenges.

What would you like to do next, funding permitting?

Assuming everything goes well with the MSc, I am hoping to study for a PhD at the Sussex Humanities Lab at Sussex University. I am always on the hunt for money to do some more sonification and I would love to continue with the Museum project after the current funding ends.

Are you involved in any wider collaborations? Why are these important?

As part of the Square Kilometre Array project (SKA), I worked with colleagues in Cambridge, the Netherlands, South Africa, and Australia (and probably a few points in between).

The SSI is spread across Southampton, Edinburgh, and Manchester and provides access to a set of skills not always found together in one organisation.

It is also good to be challenged about assumptions and to be able to ask questions. Working with international colleagues also generates new perspectives and experiences.

What publication /paper are you most proud of and why?

My favourite is the one I haven’t quite written yet, as it is really good and exciting! I have recently published a paper with Professor David de Roure on using sonification for textual analysis in versions of Hamlet.

What do you think the most important issues/challenges in your field will be in the next decade and how is the Centre placed to address them?

One of the challenges, which is ongoing, is coping with the types of questions that can be asked of data in the Humanities or trying to find relevant facets to show.

Being interdisciplinary, I think that the Centre is agile enough to think in these ways.


Read a news item about Iain's paper on Sustainable software developing through Docker containerisation.