Research Horizons is the University of Cambridge’s research magazine.

Foreword for Issue 27 (Spotlight on Big Data) from the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research:

At the heart of almost all research lies data and its interpretation. But today’s datasets are the largest, most diverse and fastest accumulating ever experienced – so much so, they have acquired a moniker all of their own, ‘Big Data’, the focus of this issue.

The Square Kilometre Array of telescopes, for instance, will produce more data than the entire traffic on the global internet at any given moment.

Global comparisons of DNA databases, meanwhile, are helping researchers find patients with some of the rarest of diseases, so clinicians don’t have to start from scratch each time they encounter a new case.

Some data is of a type unthinkable a few years ago. Social media – Twitter and Facebook, for example – is providing information that could revolutionise psychological profiling, employment and commerce.

Getting the most out of big data requires new methods to handle large volumes of information and the clever use of statistical algorithms to distil meaningful knowledge out of disorder. In 2013, we launched a University-wide initiative, Cambridge Big Data, to help researchers respond to challenges like these. Cambridge is also one of five universities that will carry out research in organising, storing and interrogating big data as part of the Alan Turing Institute.

We also cover research on the most extreme environment known to engineering – the jet engine – as well as air quality monitoring, how sheep are helping us to understand a devastating infant brain disease, a new theory of the industrial revolution and the fascinating story of a ‘haunted’ medieval book

We hope you enjoy this issue.

Professor Lynn Gladden