Thursday, 25 June 2009

Obesity and e-research (essConf09)

I attended a very interesting talk today on the Obesity e-Lab project which is based at the University of Manchester. It’s a long way to come to Cologne to hear about a project based at your own institution but quite often it’s the way we find out about these things!

As we all know from the media, obesity is becoming a major problem across the globe with over 1 billion people now classed as being overweight. The project was introduced as being non-technical and indeed it wasn’t much to the relief of some of the audience. The presentation was given by Sarah who is responsible for user engagement and usability. She goes out and talks to the users to ask if what the project is producing is what they actually want and need.

This project takes a more rounded view of obesity in so much that it’s not just your calorie intake that affects your weight. It can also be factors such as available food, proximity of shops, available transport, peer groups, income etc. The project involves a range of people from epidemiologists to social scientists and computer scientists and aims to take into account many of these factors in examining the causes of obesity. They aim to do this by examining over 5000 datasets from the UK Data Archive. The sheer volume of data is challenging as well as the problems of identifying which data set you need and how to access it.

The project is still in early days and has a list of goals which include –
  • Supporting interdisciplinary community of obesity researchers
  • Reducing barriers to database access
  • Developing a community
  • Contributing to e-Labs
Current work is identifying good practices, understanding problems, planning training and support in order to make sure that the community can use and get the benefits of the project. A working prototype is currently available in which users can search and download variables from a dataset. This allows users to download just the variables they require instead of the whole dataset.

The project is also contributing to e-Lab which is a distributed and collaborative space for e-science. There are other projects working on similar research areas so they are collaborating to build an e-Lab by sharing software components, requirements and use cases.

That’s all I have time to blog about today but I did attend another talk that grabbed my attention so hopefully I’ll have time to blog about that one tomorrow between attending talks and being on the NGS / EGEE exhibition stand!

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