Newcastle University
Newcastle upon Tyne

Dr. Oliver Butters

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


April 2017 - present
Institute of Health and Society
Newcastle University

I am a senior research associate in the Data to Knowledge research group based in the Institute of Health and Society 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. Also 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, DataSHIELD and Ecouter projects.

October 2013 to April 2017
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 - In this role I lead a team of 10+ members, looking after the data and the infrastructure needed to maintain the ALSPAC birth cohort. This involved curating over twenty five years of data, while all the time 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 have 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 my role I also had time which I spent with the Data to Knowledge group. During this time I was actively involved in a number of projects, including the development of DataSHIELD, data mining publications metadata, and tools for stakeholder engagement (ECOUTER).

November 2008 to September 2013

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 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)
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 lead 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 makes 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
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
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.

September 2003
Physics Department, 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

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


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 - 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
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. 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.




Professional training


I have 27 published academic papers in subjects covering astronomy, pedagogy, data archiving, social science and health data infrastructure. I have over 800 citations with an h-index of 15 and an i10-index of 17. One of my publications was the feature article in the journal edition it was published in. See for my Google scholar account.



System administration - I have administered both physical and virtual LAMP servers. Experience using Puppet as a configuration manager, as well as monitoring tools like nagios.
Virtualisation - VMWare vCloud Director and vSphere.
OS - Fully literate in both Windows and a variety of Linux flavours.
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 postgraduate 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 (school children) well being and identity.


Selected Presentations


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. (2011-2013) 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 experiment with new web technologies. Away from my computer I enjoy carpentry, cryptic crosswords and single malt whiskies.

Last updated on the 27th January 2019 by faji.