Funding, Grants & Awards

NSF-Funded Hubs Power Big Data Project 'Spokes'

The National Science Foundation has begun filling in the details of its national plan for big data research. Less than a year ago the NSF introduced funding for four regional hubs focused on data science innovation, led by consortia of research universities. Now, the federal agency has announced $11 million in planning activities and awards to 10 "big data spokes" projects in areas identified as important by each of those hubs. Similar to the hubs, the spokes are expected to serve in a "convening and coordinating" role; however, while the hubs extend broadly into multiple fields, each spoke will reflect a specific mission.

For example, one spoke will work on developing a new standardized modular data-sharing license and a platform that makes data sharing easier and helps to enforce the license. Partners on that project include researchers from a team of institutions — Brown University, MIT and Drexel — along with publishers  Elsevier and Thomson Reuters; technology companies Intel, Microsoft Research and Oracle; as well as Rhode Island Hospital.

Under the grant, which totals about a million dollars, the researchers will create a generalized, modular licensing agreement that covers the most common data-sharing stumbling blocks. Then they'll design a data platform and toolset, named "ShareDB," which uses and enforces the stipulations of the licensing agreement.

"The hope is that by standardizing data-sharing agreements and providing infrastructure to better enforce the contract, we can significantly increase the chance for a university and a company to reach a successful agreement in a shorter amount of time," said Tim Kraska, a computer science professor at Brown, in a prepared statement.

Kraska's MIT colleague in the Northeast Big Data Hub project said he considers the hub and spoke initiative "a great way to connect those of us working in big data in the northeast." As Samuel Madden,  a professor of electrical engineering and computer science, explained, "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."

Other northeast projects examine the use of data in education and the integration of environmental factors and causal reasoning approaches for large-scale observational health research.

The South Data Hub is awarding funding to projects involving smart grid use of big data, the use of big data for environmental sustainability and the use of large-scale medical informatics for improving patient care coordination and engagement with fitness trackers and environmental monitors.

Projects from the Midwest Hub will examine digital agriculture with unstaffed aircraft systems and the development of neuroscientific computational resources for better understanding neural operations in the human brain.

Projects in the West Hub are investigating the use of big data in urban spaces for "knowledge discovery and real-time interventions" and development of a "next generation, online computational model library" to bring transparency and accessibility to scientific research.

"The [big data] spokes advance the goals and regional priorities of each [big data] 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."

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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