UW News

November 2, 2015

UW to co-lead West Coast ‘Big Data brain trust’ for NSF

Logo_eScience-stacked (002) copyThe National Science Foundation has selected the University of Washington, along with the University of California, San Diego and the University of California, Berkeley, to co-lead one of four Big Data Regional Innovation Hubs around the country.

The ability to access, analyze and draw insights from massive amounts of data is already driving innovation in fields from medicine and manufacturing to the way cities are managed. To accelerate this emerging field, the NSF is establishing four “Big Data brain trusts” to catalyze new collaborations among university researchers, tech companies, national labs, local and state government and non-profits.

“Our selection to help lead the West’s Big Data Hub affirms our position as a leader in data science and our track record in building successful partnerships,” said Ed Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering and director of the UW eScience Institute. “The Puget Sound region in particular is an excellent laboratory for this.”

Drawing on regional strengths and challenges, each Big Data hub will help initiate collaborations that apply data science to real-world problems — such as helping scientists sequence DNA faster, building more efficient mass transit systems or making sure supplies reach the people who need them after a natural disaster.

The Western Regional Big Data Hub will focus on five areas:

  • Big data technologies — The Western states are home to the vast majority of companies and universities driving the data revolution
  • Managing natural resources and hazards — The Western states experience extreme environmental events such as flooding, earthquakes and landslides and have robust disaster response expertise
  • Precision medicine — The transformation of our nation’s sickness industry to a personalized wellness industry has been driven by data science, with much of the activity stemming from this region
  • Metro data science — The UW recently established its Urban@UW initiative that includes partnering with the City of Seattle to test data-driven solutions through a “Smart Cities” initiative announced by the White House this fall called the MetroLab Network
  • Data-enabled scientific discovery and learning — The UW’s eScience Institute and other partner universities have pioneered the use of data science to enable learning and research breakthroughs in fields ranging from oceanography to sociology to biology

The NSF Big Data Regional Innovation Hubs program builds on the White House National Big Data Research and Development Initiative announced in 2012. It aims to make partnerships easier by reducing coordination costs; offering opportunities for sharing ideas, resources and best practices; and bringing top talent to bear on pressing regional issues.

Other hubs will be coordinated by Columbia University (Northeast Hub), the University of North Carolina and Georgia Tech (South Hub), and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana (Midwest Hub).

The program has commitments from more than 280 partner organizations — including universities, cities, foundations and Fortune 500 companies — with the ability to expand further over time. The Western hub obtained commitments from universities and federal laboratories across the West, private research organizations and companies including Microsoft, Google, Tableau Software and Amazon.

“The BD Hubs program represents a unique approach to improving the impact of data science by establishing partnerships among likeminded stakeholders,” said Jim Kurose, NSF’s head of Computer and Information Science and Engineering.

“It enables teams of data science researchers to come together with domain experts, with cities and municipalities, and with anchor institutions to establish and grow collaborations that will accelerate progress in a wide range of science and education domains with the potential for great societal benefit.”

UW leadership on the project also includes eScience Institute associate director Bill Howe, senior data scientist Ariel Rokem and program director Sarah Stone.

For more information, contact Lazowska at lazowska@cs.washington.edu.