Mark Girolami

Programme Director for Data-Centric Engineering, Mark Girolami is pioneering a new engineering discipline that’s informed by the latest thinking in data science

Tell us about the Turing’s data-centric engineering programme

The data-centric engineering (DCE) programme was launched in 2015 as a partnership between the newly-established Turing and the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, with an initial investment of £10M. I joined as Programme Director in early 2016, and the programme has since leveraged more than £70M of funding, establishing a new discipline with its own international journal, master’s and PhD programmes around the world, and DCE centres in places as far-flung as Sydney (Australia) and Lappeenranta (Finland).

What gets you excited about data-centric engineering?

DCE cuts across a huge variety of fields, from agriculture to aerospace; construction to climate; medical to maritime engineering. This is all underpinned by the innovative collection of data at multiple scales, in multiple forms and volumes. Coupling this with the growth of high-performance distributed computing, what once seemed like unreasonably ambitious goals (such as operational digital twins of cities, regions, factories, organisations and supply chains) are now well within our grasp.

How would you describe the global impact of data-centric engineering so far?

There’s been a global recognition that we’re going through a step change in every single aspect of engineering regarding data and its potential to address societal crises. Engineering has always been data-centric, going as far back as the Victorian age when Lord Kelvin is paraphrased as saying “to improve something we first need to measure it”. But our ability to measure and gather data is now at scales that were unimaginable even a decade ago, and this growth and capability are not abating.

What societal challenges can data-centric engineering help with?

The impact of climate change on our critical infrastructure is accelerating. We’re seeing advancing erosion of foundations of structures such as bridges, buildings, tunnels and wind turbines, because they are operating in environmental conditions for which they were not designed. Digital twins will play an essential role in delivering more resilient and robust infrastructure. Our DCE partner the Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction is leading the way in this regard.

The supply and safety of food is also something that we can no longer take for granted, and the underground farm being developed by researchers led by DCE Group Leader Ruchi Choudhary is a good example of how DCE can help us to tackle this challenge.

What is the aim of the upcoming DCEng Summit?

The DCEng Summit will bring together world-leading thinkers to explore the broader implications and opportunities that arise when taking a data-centric perspective on an engineered world. We’ll be joined by pioneering engineers including Lord Robert Mair and Jennifer Schooling; data science leaders like Sir Adrian Smith and Sir Ian Diamond; and web trailblazers such as Dame Wendy Hall, Vint Cerf and Sir Nigel Shadbolt.

The organising team have created a programme that will be exciting, illuminating and inspiring. I can’t wait.

Finally, when not working what can you be found doing?

You will invariably catch me in Lycra cycling myself to exhaustion (although I claim this gives me time to think deeply), as well as looking after my three cats, and enjoying fine dining. I have exhausted all 2 and 3 Michelin-starred restaurants in the British Isles, and often (pre-pandemic) had to nip across to France, Italy and Spain to satisfy this pastime.