Camila Rangel Smith

In our first REG spotlight Research Data Scientist Camila Rangel Smith discusses her background in high energy physics and her current work helping to monitor the resilience of ecological systems

Fact file

  • During her PhD, Camila was part of the analysis team that discovered the Higgs boson particle at CERN in 2012.
  • Camila is co-founder of CEVALE2-VE and a member of LA-CoNGA, educational projects that aim to support the modernisation of the higher education system in Latin-America and promote values ​​of collaboration, education and open research.

What is your job at the Turing?

I work as a Research Data Scientist as part of the Research Engineering Group (REG) at the Turing.

Tell us about your background before joining the Turing? 

I am originally from Venezuela, where I completed an undergraduate degree in Physics at the Universidad de los Andes. In 2010 I won a scholarship to do a PhD in experimental high energy physics in France, so I moved to Paris and worked on the search for the Higgs boson particle at the ATLAS experiment at CERN (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research). After receiving my PhD from Université Paris Diderot, I moved to Sweden for a postdoc position in Uppsala University where I worked on searching for physics beyond the Standard Model of Particle Physics.

After six years working in the field of high energy physics, and moving countries a lot, I was keen to find some stability and explore new horizons in my career. It was then I discovered that there is a job title called “Data Scientist”! As data is central to experimental particle physics, I was pleased to learn that the skills I gained from my PhD could be used to solve a broader spectrum of problems.

After a couple of years working as a Data Scientist in the EdTech sector, in October 2018 I started my job at the Turing and I could not be happier - I’ve found my dream job!

What are you working on at the moment?

One project I’m working on is called "Data Science for Sustainable Development". This project aims to improve the monitoring of the resilience of ecological systems and provide early warning for environmental risks such as desertification and other effects caused by climate change.

Our team (composed of researchers from Exeter University and REG) has built an open source software tool to study the time evolution of semi-arid vegetation patterns using remote sensing. With this tool we measure resilience through using quantitative methods that characterise the morphology of spatial patterns applied to images of patterned vegetation obtained using the Google Earth Engine platform. Currently we are monitoring many locations in the African Sahel region and plan to go global.

What do you like the most about working at the Turing?

I love how much we get to learn! Usually, in REG we work on two projects at the same time -  these can be from completely different fields which we might not have previous experience in. This can sound overwhelming, but we are always given the time and space to study to help us get up to speed with new topics.

Also, I have to mention how great our team is. I feel very lucky to work with such a smart, kind and generous group of people.

Tell us about an interesting book you read recently?

During lockdown I joined the online book club of Data Feminism lead by the authors. The book discusses the principals of doing data science from an intersectional feminist perspective and paints a powerful picture of how technology reflects and reproduces social hierarchies and injustices. It proposes a framework for working with data in a more responsible and ethical manner. 

For me, the book was a revelation. I’ve already started using some of the ideas in my current projects, and plan to use the principles as a compass for future work.