Connecting data scientists with regional challenges

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced $10 million in awards to 10 “Big Data Spokes” projects to initiate research on specific topics identified by the Big Data Regional Innovation Hubs (BD Hubs).

Project topics range from precision agriculture to personalized education. The data spokes reflect the unique priorities and capabilities of the four BD Hubs, which represent consortia from the Midwest, Northeast, South and West of the country.

“The BD Spokes advance the goals and regional priorities of each BD Hub, fusing the strengths of a range of institutions and investigators and applying them to problems that affect the communities and populations within their regions,” said Jim Kurose, assistant director of NSF’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate. “We are pleased to be making this substantial investment today to accelerate the nation’s big data R&D innovation ecosystem.”

NSF is also making available an additional $1 million toward planning efforts and Early-Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) awards in support of the nation’s big data innovation ecosystem.

In March 2012, the Administration launched the Big Data Research and Development Initiative to improve the ability to solve some of the nation’s most pressing challenges by extracting knowledge and insights from large, complex collections of digital data. The BD Hubs, announced last year, are one way NSF is addressing this need by fostering multi-sector collaborations among academia, industry and government, and bringing together a wide range of stakeholders to solve regional challenges.

Like the BD Hubs, the BD Spokes will take on a convening and coordinating role, as opposed to directly conducting research. Each will gather important stakeholders, engage end users and solution providers, and form multi-disciplinary teams to tackle questions no single field can solve alone. However, unlike the BD Hubs, which aim to span the full range of data-driven challenges and solutions in a geographic region, each BD Spoke will have a specific, goal-driven mission.

An example of the types of activities the awards will support includes an effort, led by a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Brown University and Drexel University, to develop a data licensing approach and automated platform that will allow individuals and organizations to share data. The platform will ensure that data sharing conforms to the imposed licensing restrictions. Partners on the project include Elsevier, Intel, Microsoft Research, Oracle, Rhode Island Hospital and Thomson Reuters.

“The Big Data Hub and Big Data Spokes have been a great way to connect those of us working in Big Data in the Northeast,” said Samuel Madden, professor of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at MIT and a principal investigator on the project. “As a computer scientist focused on software for sharing data, I’ve been able to connect to a diverse group of researchers and leaders interested in a wide range of broader issues, ranging from hardware infrastructure to software architectures to the legal, ethical, and societal implications of data sharing.”

Another project, led by Gari Clifford, associate professor of Biomedical Informatics at Emory University, will investigate how to use data from diverse sources, including fitness trackers and environmental monitors, to improve patient care. As its first pilot, the project will focus on African-Americans and Latinos diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. Partners include Amazon, Emory Critical Care Center, Cerner, Relus Technologies and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

The 10 BD Spokes projects are:

Among the planning grants being announced today, Robin Gandhi from the University of Nebraska Omaha will investigate how Big Data can be used to improve America’s infrastructure, starting with sensors on bridges. Abani Patra from the University at Buffalo will lead a collaboration to spur innovations in the energy sector using Big Data. The full list of planning projects is as follows:

The BD Hubs and Spokes programs are part of a larger effort at NSF to advance data science and engineering. In Fiscal Year 2017, NSF will invest more than $110 million in Big Data research.

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