UW News

August 4, 2015

UW workshop to explore Big Data solutions for science

data science word cloud copyAt a University of Washington workshop this week, a hundred graduate students from around the country will explore a question that everyone is asking these days: What can data science do for me?

To land an invite to the Data Science 2015 workshop on Aug 5 – 7, they were asked to identify a single challenge, big idea or solution that data science — the process of extracting knowledge and making discoveries from vast amounts of data — could advance in their scientific or engineering fields.

These were a few of the answers: Using crowdsourced images for ecological monitoring or tracking plant flowering on a global scale, modeling the spread of disease at mass gatherings, improving traffic management, assessing fisheries with satellite imagery, analyzing bias in social media data, tracking ozone pollution, predicting how managed care patients use health care.

The National Science Foundation-funded workshop will help connect those graduate students with data science mentors from academia and industry — as well as peers with similar interests — to work on solutions and discuss the latest practices and advances in the field.

The workshop will feature keynote speeches from Oren Etzioni, UW professor of computer science and CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and Microsoft’s head of engineering for Big Data Raghu Ramakrishnan. A panel discussion Thursday at 10 a.m. on breakthroughs, trends and challenges in data science will feature UW computer science and astronomy experts and representatives from Google and Microsoft.

“We wanted to know what Big Data problem might be solved if these graduate students had a good connection to a machine learning person or knew some new statistical method — and how that would advance the state of astronomy or social sciences or civil engineering,” said workshop chair David Beck, a UW research assistant professor in chemical engineering and the eScience Institute’s research director for life sciences.

“Part of the mission is to build the strongest workforce possible by creating students who have one foot in the world of data science and one in their home science,” he said. “It’s not only important to educate the next generation of scientists but the next generation of data scientists in academia and at companies like Google, Microsoft and beyond.”

The workshop will include break-out sessions in which 10 groups of students and volunteer mentors from academic fields and local technology companies work on problems specific to a particular field. Poster sessions will highlight potential data science applications in fields as diverse as genetics, retailing and weather prediction.

“These students know from a very boots-on-the-ground perspective what the next five or 10 or 15 years are going to look like because this is their area of science,” said Beck. “So this is really an opportunity to get a peek at what the future looks like.”

The conference is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and organized by the UW eScience Institute, the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship in Big Data and Data Science, the School of Oceanography and the departments of Astronomy, Chemical Engineering and Computer Science & Engineering.

The workshop is open to the media. For more information or to reserve a spot, contact Beck at dacb@uw.edu.