Data science institute on campus to facilitate multidisciplinary research

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Last week, UC Berkeley announced the launch of a data science institute that will bring together researchers from all fields and facilitate unique multidisciplinary research on campus.

The Berkeley Institute for Data Science, or BIDS, will encompass a range of sciences on campus — from natural science to social sciences — allowing researchers to collaborate with each other on a campus level. The institute is part of a data science collaboration project that includes New York University and the University of Washington and enables research to be conducted in a range of environments across the country.

Led by Nobel Laureate and UC Berkeley physics professor Saul Perlmutter, BIDS aims to focus on data-driven research in which researchers who understand technology and natural science are in demand.

The three universities will collaborate by first conducting experiments in their local environments then getting together and comparing notes, said Cathryn Carson, a campus history professor who analyzes the process by which data science is conducted at BIDS.

For example, Carson said current social science research involves data that is collected through social networking sites, cell phone records and even data sensors from bridges and freeways, and BIDS can help congregate that data to learn about human interactivity.

“The availability of data will give us incredible capacities for understanding human social behavior,” Carson said, adding that the new approach will lend itself to “the next generation of social sciences.”

The institute is funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Over the course of five years, the three universities will receive $37.8 million to conduct research on data science.

The plan for the institute was announced in November, with an emphasis on developing “innovative partnerships to advance technologies that support advanced data managements and analytic techniques,” said Chris Mentzel, a program officer at the Moore Foundation.

Mentzel said the Moore Foundation chose to fund the institute as it was looking to support data-driven research at the university level as well as support researchers in multidisciplinary fields.

“These new approaches to data science will greatly help accelerate the pace of scientific discovery with far-reaching implications for basic and applied science, for business, public policies, societies and for areas we don’t even know yet,” Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said at the institute’s launch.

BIDS will be housed in room 190 of the Doe Library. The institute is still in its start-up phase and in the process of defining its mission and figuring out how to transform the campus for data science.

Lydia Tuan covers research and ideas. Contact her at [email protected].

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