NIAB expands data science research capabilities with new appointment

20 Jan 2020
Dr Ji Zhou
NIAB has appointed Dr Ji Zhou to a new role as Head of Data Sciences.

Dr Zhou will collaborate with research groups and companies in the UK, Europe and China to spearhead big data- based solutions in the areas of crop imaging, crop phenomics and AI-based analysis to underpin the digital transition underway in the agricultural sector.

Both science and industry require new methodologies for crop phenotyping and phenotypic analysis, alongside IoT (Internet of Things) smart sensor and AI-based solutions, to address big data challenges within the global food security agenda.

“We’re delighted that Ji is joining us at NIAB,” says Dr Richard Harrison, NIAB’s Director of Cambridge Crop Research. “Increasingly data science is changing the way our industry makes decisions, enhancing plant research, breeding and optimising crop productivity. Data-driven decision tools will also be at the heart of the approaches taken by industry to reach the ambitious 2040 “net-zero” sector target. The growth of the data science team at NIAB, led by Ji, is a significant next step in our future strategy for the organisation, delivering the quality and efficiency that are essential to meet the growing expectations of customers across the public and private sector.”

Speaking about his appointment Dr Zhou said, “This is a very exciting time to be joining the NIAB group, renowned for its combination of world-class crop research, innovation and leading-edge scientific services and products. This is a great opportunity to develop a new strand of research to further enhance NIAB’s crop science programme and I’m looking forward to working with my new colleagues in NIAB’s new HQ in Cambridge, as part of the Crop Science Centre, NIAB’s collaboration with Cambridge University.”

Also, a professor at Nanjing Agricultural University and Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology, Dr Zhou joins NIAB from The Earlham Institute, where he worked since 2017 and was a group leader.

He and his group have led and delivered a number of innovative technical projects including a high-throughput field phenotyping using 3D laser scanners, the creation of a distributed low-cost phenotyping platform, an aerial crop analytic system, and a large-scale seed screening platform. His research endeavours to overcome the bottleneck of linking phenotyping to genotyping for crop research, breeding and real-world agricultural production.

Before his academic life, Dr Zhou worked as a bilingual IT professional in Shanghai, before moving to the UK and becoming a systems analyst and project consultant at Aviva. He was awarded a PhD in computer science from the University of East Anglia in 2011 before joining The Sainsbury Laboratory as a post-doctoral research fellow and then a project leader jointly funded by John Innes Centre and TGAC. Notably, he was shortlisted from a large number early-stage scientists and presented in Parliament as part of the SET for Britain 2013 competition.