November 30, 2023


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FFEA application: Repeated early innovation

5 min read

Dr Joanna Leng, Senior Research Program Engineering Fellow at the University of Leeds, discusses program with repeated early innovation making use of the instance of the FFEA software package

This posting analyses the application of computer software engineering (SE) equipment and methods and research program engineering (RSE) methods to the Fluctuating Finite Component Assessment (FFEA) software package, a mesoscale modelling package.

In 2016, I met the FFEA staff to discuss increasing their software program. In 2020, I started off doing the job with them to create a roadmap for the FFEA application by assessing their research pursuits and software package.

The RSE and recurring innovations

In a prior article, I described what an RSE is, why the growth of that part is essential to the Engineering and Actual physical Sciences Study Council (EPSRC), and in which the PERPL computer software sat on the Abernathy- Utterback representation of the innovation pipeline.

In that situation, the pipeline was for a one substantial innovation, the adoption of super-resolution gentle microscopy (SRLM) nevertheless, the curve makes no difference between the range or size of improvements, only exertion. The pipeline for the FFEA software program addresses two key software package releases. A substantial launch involves significant SE effort to make the product or service stable, when investigation learners generally include exertion for operation/features.

The program started in 2007 as a PhD challenge when only scientific final results were released. In 2018, after a great deal SE hard work (such as bettering the documentation, adding exams and building it effortless to put in), the FFEA crew released a software paper. This hard work is represented in Fig. 1 by the initial peak of the blue curve, while the next peak represents my team’s hard work.

Acquiring funding at this phase in the pipeline is hard, significantly for study program, as there is a modest person foundation. There is proof of strategy but not however relieve of use, and it should contend with additional founded improvements/systems. This is referred to as the Innovation Valley of Dying.

All innovations need funding to survive. For educational research software package, early expenditure is in time lecturers donate time to discover new analysis passions and RSE teams as a pump-priming. Funding can take an innovation from evidence of notion to profitable new merchandise/improvements the market adopts. The marketplace is a investigation community for study computer software, and use/adoption is continuous.

The challenge is that funding for study application dominates the industry of mature software program. In academia, funding alterations as program moves together the pipeline. The host college funds early innovation computer software by way of analysis student projects or free RSE time as key-pumping the fees are extra to the college overheads. Research councils fund established software program. Whilst in enterprise, there are a lot more techniques to fund crossing the Innovation Valley of Loss of life, e.g., venture money.

Fig 2: The new FFEA meshing software package displaying the visualisation scene on the remaining exhibiting a tetrahedral mesh of a myosin molecule with a small component highlighted in inexperienced

The FFEA computer software

FFEA performs continuum mechanics simulations of proteins and other globular macromolecules. It brings together traditional finite factor approaches with stochastic thermal noise to allow simulations at the mesoscale (size-scales in the vary of 5nm to 1μm), in which few modelling equipment exist. The mysterious mother nature of the mesoscale makes it ripe for exploration and new discoveries.

The C++ main software commenced in 2007, and Python 2.7 guidance utilities, FFEAtools, had been additional in 2010. These have been built-in into a single package for the 2018 paper to make improvements to relieve of installation. The direct was an EPSRC-funded early vocation fellow, and even though these enhancements had been vital, they had been not an acknowledged educational output.

In 2020, a blended assessment of computer software and analysis pursuits involving buyers and developers was executed. Though it is recognised that software program assessment is an sophisticated SE ability, combining it with analysis interests is an unrecognised superior RSE analysis technique. They needed backwards compatibility, upcoming adaptability to enable for adaption to their numerous funding and study passions, and issues to be preset.

Improvements to the FFEA computer software

By 2018, FFEA was a solitary application deal integrating a C++ core and Python 2.7 utilities. It is now a suite of three packages:

  • The FFEA core C++ application.
  • FFEAtools, a Python 3.9 utility pipy bundle.
  • Ffea_meshing, a Python 3.9 GUI pipy package deal.

The suite is modular, building it less difficult to prolong.

Incentives to make improvements to the FFEA software

The FFEA staff, such as the RSEs, are in school, so results is calculated in publications. This prioritises improving upon operation over security. The exploration college students have minimal time to study SE/RSE capabilities. They do not have the highly developed SE/RSE encounter wanted to assess software package, re-design and style and re-engineer in alignment with investigation wants.

FFEA software discussion

The FFEA software package has one of a kind performance implementing new physics, which is at the forefront of mesoscale biomolecular simulation globally.

This application could not have been made or enhanced with no research pupils. On the other hand, exploration college students do not have the innovative expertise essential to evaluate and re-engineer the program a junior RSE in an anonymised pool does not have the area information or numerical abilities to be prosperous a generalised team of RSE will struggle to source innovative RSE on an advertisement hoc basis there is no funding route so, for now, investigation students will do their most effective.

As the software grows and gains complexity with just about every new addition from a investigate student, it will require far more sophisticated RSE abilities to maintain and create steady releases suitable with potential investigate passions. The software package is in danger of staying missing until the team can acquire entry to a long term advanced RSE who understands the application and the exploration wants of the group, ideal obtained if they are section of the investigate workforce.

References can be provided on ask for.


Thanks to FFEA crew ( up-to-date/index.html) based at the University of Leeds. This do the job was supported by the EPSRC grant EP/R025819/1.

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