Funding, Grants & Awards

Big Data Finds Support at Duke U

The study of big data just received a boost at Duke University. The North Carolina institution has received a total of $9.75 million in gifts and matching grants to sustain the Information Initiative at Duke (iiD), an interdisciplinary program to help faculty and students work on projects that pull meaning out of big data.

iiD has three areas of focus: It works with Duke departments to introduce undergraduates to data analytics; it provides seed funding for cross-discipline research projects; and it gives undergrads opportunities to use computational methods to puzzle out pressing social problems through data. Big data, as the program explained in a statement, consists of information "characterized by tremendous volume, variety and rapid change."

The new funding will endow iiD professorships, create graduate fellowships in engineering and launch educational programs on data-driven problem-solving in courses and in the field.

iiD lives within Bass Connections, an initiative funded with $50 million from Anne and Robert Bass, to explore the brain and society; global health; energy; education and human development; and information, society and culture. iiD is specifically part of that latter project team.

"The availability of massive amounts of data within every disciplinary domain is transforming research and education," said Robert Calderbank, iiD director and a professor in Duke's departments of electrical and computer engineering, computer science and mathematics. "With this generous support, Duke and iiD will continue to lead the way in developing truly innovative opportunities for our students and faculty to engage with big data and impact society in the classroom and beyond."

Since its founding in 2013 iiD initiatives have included collaborations with Duke Medicine to deploy personalized health care, with the Duke University Energy Initiative to understand energy usage and improve efficiency and with Duke's Social Science Research Institute to better understand the impact of public policies.

In one Bass Connections project, iiD faculty and students are developing algorithms for screening for autism and childhood mental disorders. Eventually, the team hopes to supply tools to clinicians that will help them identify symptoms and intervene earlier.

"If we can find patterns in the data that point to just a few simple tests or questions that truly indicate a problem, that would be a tremendous tool for clinicians," said Guillermo Sapiro, a professor in engineering and computer science who co-leads the project with Duke child psychiatrist Helen Egger. "It's an exciting project because the contribution to society could be huge."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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