The University of Bristol

Dr. Oliver Butters

Ph.D. M.Sci. (Hons) ARCS


October 2013 to present

I am the senior data manager of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC - In this role I lead a team looking after the data and the infrastructure needed to maintain the ALSPAC cohort. This involves curating over twenty years of data, while all the time facilitating the addition of new questionnaire data, clinical data, and biological data to the resource.


As part of my role I also have research time which I spend with the Data to Knowledge group. During this time I am actively invloved in a number of projects, including the development of DataSHIELD.


October 2005 to October 2009

I studied for a Ph.D. in astrophysics at the Open University, supervised by Dr. Andrew Norton and Dr. Ulrich Kolb. The aim of my project was to investigate the nature of the magnetic field in magnetic cataclysmic variables.

I tackled the problem with three complementary approaches; firstly I analysed data from the RXTE satellite of hard X-ray selected candidate intermediate polars. The aim of this was to classify these candidates as bona fide members of the class and thus discover if the hard X-ray selected population is the same as the soft X-ray selected.

The second approach was an optical circular polarization survey of known intermediate polars. This gave a much higher level of consistency across the field than had been gained from previous individual target measurements. The survey showed that circular polarization is present in more systems, and at a higher level, than previously thought.

The final approach was computational modelling of the accretion column in intermediate polars and combining this with an existing simulation of their accretion disc topology. The combination of these two models allowed a full photo-electric absorption simulation to be developed. This involved the creation of a pseudo-parallel code to run on a cluster. This work has started to elucidate the emission profiles of the systems as a function of their physical conditions.


September 2001 to June 2005

I read an M.Sci. in Physics at Imperial College London, graduating with a first class Masters in Science degree in 2005 (see table below). The syllabus followed a compulsory selection in the first year with ever increasing choice in the later years. A significant amount of project work was undertaken with much emphasis on computer modelling. All of the models were written in C++. Examples include: a simulation of a ferromagnetic material - using the Monte Carlo methods; a simulation of a chaotic double pendulum and a galaxy simulation.

My final year research project was a computer model simulating LeSage Gravity in Dusty Plasmas. This was a continuation of the research project I began in the summer of my third year at Imperial. I constructed a simulation in C++ of dust particles in a low temperature plasma to test the hypothesised attractive force known as LeSage gravity. The method used was a molecular dynamics algorithm.

SubjectMark (%)
Electricity & Magnetism89
Matter,Vibrations & Waves, Quantum Physics & the Universe68
Mechanics & Relativity87
Physics Laboratory I77
Physics Short Experiments & Project I69
Weighted first year mark79.14
Electromagnetism & Optics72
Electrons in Solids & Applications of Quantum Mechanics80
Mathematical Physics, Statistics of Measurement & Professional Skills79
Physics Laboratory II70
Quantum Mechanics55
Sun, Stars & Planets68
Thermodynamics & Statistical Physics60
Weighted first & second year mark72.7
Advanced Classical Physics87
Computational Physics71
Nuclear & Particle Physics67
Physics I Comprehensive Paper80
Physics II Comprehensive Paper65
Physics Laboratory65
Plasma Physics63
Solid State & Atomic Physics and Professional Skills69
Weighted first, second & third year mark72.7
Atmospheric Physics55
General Relativity75
Physics Research Project & Research Interfaces80
Space Physics75
Weighted first, second, third & fourth year mark73.6

Final degree class 1:1


November 1996 to June 2001
Diss High School, Norfolk
A Levels
Physics A Dual Science A* A*
Maths A Maths A*
Further Maths B English Language B
Business Studies C English Literature B
French B
Physical Education B
Business Studies B
Graphics C


November 2008 to September 2013
BRISSKit (October 2011 to September 2013)

As part of the Research Computing Support group I worked on a project called BRISSKit (Biomedical Research Infrastructure Software Service Kit). This is an ambitious bioinformatics I.T. infrastructure project in partnership with University Hospitals Leicester Trust. Its main aim is to bring together a suite of programs to form a generic cloud-based platform that researchers can quickly and easily implement, thus reducing the overhead of I.T. infrastructure development and deployment. In this position I was the lead developer, driving the direction of the technical development. A key component I architected in this project was the overall cloud infrastructure which has more than one hundred virtual machines. This is being done in a VMWare environment alongside the puppet management software.

HALOGEN (April 2011 to September 2011)

I worked in the Research Computing Support group (part of I.T. Services) on a geospatial project called HALOGEN. This was a cross-disciplinary collaboration aiming to develop generic data management tools for geospatial researchers across the university. By developing a set of core standards I was able to ingest several disparate data sets in various formats into one homogeneous database. I then developed a web interface to the data so researchers could query the data in a way previously not available to them. By granting access to the database to geospatial analysis tools this allowed complex cross-data set (and hence cross-disciplinary) queries. This has lead to new, and hitherto impossible, research questions being addressed.

WASP/LEDAS (November 2008 to March 2011)

I was a research associate/support scientist in the physics and astronomy department. My position was split into three distinct roles, the majority share of my time spent on the SuperWASP project. This involved designing and building the public archive, which makes over 20TB of astronomical data (approximately 200 billion data points) publicly available. The second part of the job was maintaining and developing the astronomical database service LEDAS. This is the main European portal to the World's astronomical data. The final aspect of my job was the continuation of my personal research into intermediate polars.

November 2006 - July 2009

I was an active member in a research initiative aiming to explore virtual learning environments by using, among other things, the virtual world of Second Life. The project was called Schome and was housed on a private island in the teenage grid. I had several roles within the project. I used my programming skills to create interactive objects on the island and data collection and analysis tools to evaluate the effectiveness of the pilot. I was also involved in a project in which the community developed an instrument to go on a satellite and launched into space for a national competition. We were short listed and our project was developed further with the help of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.

July to September 2004
Physics Dept., Imperial College London

I undertook an undergraduate research opportunity program placement in which I worked in the Plasma Physics research group in my department. During this time I constructed a two-dimensional simulation of homogeneous dust immersed in a low temperature plasma. The aim of this being to build a flexible framework for later development in my M.Sci. research project.

September 2003
Physics Dept., Imperial College London

Relocation and construction of specialised equipment within the department.

Summer 2003
Southside Bar, Imperial College London

General bar work.

1999 to 2001
Diss, Norfolk

Free lance tutor for A-Level and GCSE students in Maths and Physics.



System administration - I have administered both physical and virtual LAMP servers.
Virtualisation - VMWare vCloud Director and vSphere.
OS - Fully literate in both Windows and Linux.
Typesetting - Competent in the Microsoft Office suite. Proficient in Latex.
Programming - Python, C/C++, Perl, Bash scripting.
Data analysis - Good general data analysis skills, including error analysis. IDL, MATLAB, R.
Web design - HTML, CSS, PHP, MySQL, JavaScript.


ESO 3.6m - Two nights observing with the EFOSC2 instrument in its circular polarization mode at La Silla in Chile.
N.O.T. - The Nordic Optical Telescope, a 2.56m telescope on the island of La Palma. Three nights using the TURPOL instrument, and two nights using FIES.
S.A.A.O. 1.9m - One week helping to commission a new polarimeter.
O.A.M. - A week at the Observatori Astronomic de Mallorca using 12 inch Meades used to teach undergraduate students.


I was the student representative for the departmental computer policy group at the Open University. This meant that I liaised between the student body and other representatives in the department about the policies affecting the future direction of the departmental Unix system. As part of this role I also wrote the documentation for all the systems in the department.

I was elected to the committee of the post graduate student society ( for two consecutive years. In this role I liaised with the campus wide student body when issues were raised.

I was a core member of staff in the schome initiative, this placed me in a position of trust with regards to the community's well being and identity.



I was short-listed for the JISC Geospatial programmer of the year 2011. I won the Open University research school poster competition in 2006, this then qualified me to go on and represent the Open University at a regional event. I was short-listed for the best second and third year postgraduate talk in 2008. During my undergraduate degree I was short-listed for the Imperial College London entrepreneurship challenge for a project I developed in my free time.

Professional qualifications

I am PRINCE2 Foundation qualified.


Selected Presentations

Universities and colleges Information Systems Association Cloud Computing Review 2012 - Building BRISSKit on the Eduserv cloud.
Advances in medical science 2012 - BRISSKit – The Biomedical Research Infrastructure Software Service kit. Presented BRISSKit to heads of the medical science community.
E-Health Insider Live 2011 - Towards a cloud-enabled Translational Research IT platform. Presented BRISSKit to the eHealth community.
SuperWASP consortium meeting 2010 - The SuperWASP public archive - the first 130 days. An analysis of the initial usage of the public archive.
National Astronomy Meeting 2010 - The SuperWASP public archive. Presented a summary on the launch of the SuperWASP public archive.
Farnbourgh International Airshow 2008 - S.C.H.O.M.E. Presented schome research to the science minister.
Young Astronomers' Meeting 2007 - Virtual light, virtually right? Presented some of my work on theoretical modelling of intermediate polars.


I was a named co-investigator on two successful RXTE proposals (2007,2008) and one VLT proposal (2011). I have also been both a primary and co-investigator on several further telescope proposals.


I have published twenty refereed papers in astronomy; having an h-index of nine. My SuperWASP public archive paper was the feature article in that week's edition.


I taught new postgraduate students astronomical data analysis at the S.T.F.C. astrobiology summer school 2007.
I spent a week teaching Open University undergraduate students how to use a telescope and to do astronomy projects at the Observatori Astronomic de Mallorca as part of the SXR208 course (2007).


I have been involved in numerous traditional science communication outreach events, with various groups of people ranging from brownies to amateur astronomy societies. In each case the events were tailored to a level appropriate to the audience, these have involved both talks and interactive displays.

I have also been heavily involved in more technologically innovative events that can reach a much wider audience. I was a designated astronomy expert in the national Space Safari initiative where we taught space science remotely to almost 1000 school children in the North of England. I have also played an integral part in the Schome initiative, where we have been teaching school children from across the country (and the U.S.A. for a term) in Second Life. One of the highlights of this project for me was helping a group to design a satellite instrument for a competition run by the British National Space Centre. Their entry was short-listed to be developed further. This lead to a trip to the Surrey Satellite Ltd. laboratory, a meeting with the minister of science and an awards ceremony at the International Astronautical Congress (2008). The innovative nature of this project is such that we have published our findings in an educational journal.


I have been involved in several web projects to varying degrees. This is a bioinformatics infrastructure project which delivers research applications via the web. It is hosted on the NHS N3 network to achieve the enhanced security required for sensitive patient data. (2011-present) This is the public interface to a collection of disparate geospatial data sets from the University of Leicester. I designed and built every part of this project from start to finish. (2011) This is a portal to the first public data release of the SuperWASP project. I designed, built and maintained this. There is a lot of server-side programming that had to be developed to enable a large degree of on-the-fly processing of the data. In total over 20 million files are available which take up over 20TB of disk space. (2008-2011) This is the Leicester Data Archive Service, which is the main European portal to the World's astronomical data. I maintained this while upgrading both the hardware and software. (2008-2011) This is the main website of the schome project - and educational research project hosted by the Open University. I built and maintained the website. It incorporates some static pages along with a forum, wiki and a blog. Further to this, scripts were written to interface second life with the website. (2006-2009) I was elected web co-ordinator of the post-graduate student society at the Open University for two years. During this time I redesigned, built and maintained the main web presence of the society, this was then where the students could find information about events on campus. (2006-2008) This is my personal website where I teach myself web programming and experiment with new web technologies. (2005-present)


In my spare time I run my own web server, on which I maintain my own websites ( and, and experiment with new web technologies. Away from my computer I enjoy carpentry, cryptic crosswords and single malt whiskies.

Last updated on the 9th April 2015 by faji.