Population Health Sciences Institute
Newcastle University
Newcastle upon Tyne

Dr. Oliver Butters

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


I have an interdisciplinary data science and research data management background, with a career focussed on establishing and managing research data repositories, software and tools to ensure data is accessible to researchers. This has spanned astronomy datasets with over 100 billion data points; geospatial place name etymology and census data covering England; and finally sensitive cohort, genomic, and healthcare data. My expertise in the domain is highly valued, as is evidenced by my involvement in an advisory capacity to national research projects (CLOSER, METADAC), and invitations to speak at external international consortia meetings. Despite holding non-academic (professional services and Research Software Engineer) positions in my career I have a competitive publication record (28 publications, h-index of 13) and a have successfully secured research funding.


October 2005 to October 2009
Department of Physics and Astronomy
The Open University
Ph.D. in astrophysics at the Open University, supervised by Dr. Andrew Norton and Dr. Ulrich Kolb.

Unveiling the nature of Intermediate Polars through multiwavelength observations and computer modeling - I investigated the nature of the magnetic field in intermediate polars by carrying out X-ray satellite and ground-based optical circular polarization observations. I also built a simulation of the accretion flow in intermediate polars to model the emission and absorption processes.

September 2001 to June 2005
Department of Physics
Imperial College London
M.Sci. in Physics at Imperial College London. Final degree class 1:1

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. My final year research project was a computer model simulating LeSage Gravity in Dusty Plasmas.


April 2017 - present
Senior Research Associate
Population Health Sciences Institute
Newcastle University

I am a senior research associate in the Data to Knowledge research group based in the Population Health Sciences Institute at Newcastle University. In this role I am involved in multiple projects, all of which have a central goal to make it easier to do research with sensitive data and increase the impact from the data. These projects include a publications meta data mining project which aims to evaluate and compare the research outputs of birth cohort studies in the UK. I am responsible for extracting and linking genetics data for the 1958 birth cohort study, then delivering the data to external researchers. I am additionally centrally involved in the Connected Health Cities project, which aims to build a Trusted Research Environment in which health data can be deposited. Alongside these I am also involved in the technical aspects of the METADAC (www.metadac.ac.uk), DataSHIELD (www.datashield.ac.uk) and Ecouter projects.

October 2013 to April 2017
ALSPAC Senior Data Manager
School of Social and Community Medicine
The University of Bristol

I was the senior data manager of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC - www.bristol.ac.uk/alspac). In this role I built, and maintained funding for, a successful team of 10+ members, to look after the data and the infrastructure needed to maintain the ALSPAC birth cohort. This involved curating over twenty five years of data, whilst facilitating the collection and processing of new data. The data was in a wide variety of formats and sizes, and included questionnaires, clinical assessments, biological samples and genetic data. All of this data had to be ingested into the main resource and made available to researchers in a timely fashion.

Information security was an essential part of this role, and I designed and implemented various systems and procedures to both monitor and fix problems. Much of this was done under the banner of ISO27001 and the NHS Information Governance Toolkit.

As part of this role I was actively engaged with the CLOSER consortium, and worked with other data managers to share good practice. I was also successful in applying to CLOSER for over £160,000 in grants for two projects.

November 2008 to September 2013
Research Associate

BRISSKit (October 2011 to September 2013)
Research computing support & Department of Health Sciences

As part of the Research Computing Support group I worked on a project called BRISSKit (Biomedical Research Infrastructure Software Service Kit). This was an ambitious bioinformatics I.T. infrastructure project in partnership with University Hospitals Leicester Trust. Its main aim was to bring together a suite of programs to form a generic cloud-based platform that researchers could 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 had more than one hundred virtual machines. This was done in a VMWare environment alongside the puppet management software.

HALOGEN (April 2011 to September 2011)
Research computing support

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 led to new, and hitherto impossible, research questions being addressed.

WASP/LEDAS (November 2008 to March 2011)
Department of Physics and Astronomy

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 made over 20TB of astronomical data (over 100 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
Core team member
Department of Education
The Open University & Second Life

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 shortlisted and our project was developed further with the help of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.

July to September 2004
Undergraduate placement
Physics Department, 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.



Awards and Accolades



I have 28 published academic papers in subjects covering astronomy, pedagogy, data archiving, social science and health data infrastructure. I have over 650 citations with an h-index of 13 and an i10-index of 15. One of my publications was the feature article in the journal edition it was published in.




Invited talks

Appointments, Memberships and Responsibilities




Professional training



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.

A virtual reality project I was part of was exhibited at the London Science Museum's Our Lives in Data gallery (2016-2017).

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 also played an integral part in the Schome initiative, where we taught school children from across the UK (and the USA for one 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 shortlisted to be developed further. This led 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.

Last updated on the 6th March 2019 by Olly.