EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training Cloud Computing for Big Data


Kirsten Crane
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I have a background in psychology – I did both my BSc in Psychology (Applied) and my Master’s by Research in Cognitive Neuroscience at Durham University.

During my MRes I was a member of DUNIC (Durham University Neuroimaging Centre). I used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) for my project, and the Space for Paralysis research lab - a multi-disciplinary team of psychologists, engineers and computer scientists working on brain-computer interface solutions for quadriplegic and locked-in syndrome patients.

Whilst I had already applied to several psychology PhDs, when I heard about the Cloud Computing for Big Data PhD at Newcastle University I decided to change paths. I felt a transition into data science would open many doors, whilst leaving the psychology door open.

With only very small amounts of experience in statistics and programming, I was encouraged to take the Computer Science conversion MSc here at Newcastle University. Having completed this degree, I am now beginning my CDT journey.

PhD title

Tracking Whales Through Big Data

The North-East has an internationally significant population of certain dolphin species and is the feeding grounds for migratory whales. It is important to monitor these populations of cetaceans for conservation purposes as well as knowledge acquisition. Researchers in the School of Biology spend several months of the year conducting surveys and then many more analysing this data for purposes such as identification and health assessment.

In an existing collaboration, Professor Nick Wright of Engineering and Dr Stephen McGough of Computing are working with Dr Per Berggren of Marine Biology to bring machine learning techniques to the study of marine mammals. Two students from Cohort 4 are already working on applying neural networks to image and sound data with the aim of assisting the identification process. The aim of this project is to facilitate the data collection process, collecting data that would not be possible to collect from aboard a vessel.

The idea is to design a camera-fitted ROV capable of diving sub-surface and equip it with deep reinforcement learning algorithms that will allow it to identify and then track a cetacean autonomously. Video footage acquired in this manner could potentially deliver new insights into the behaviour of these mammals.


Nick Wright