UC Berkeley to lead western regional ‘brain trust’ for data science innovation

Sierra Brown/Staff

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The National Science Foundation, or NSF, announced Monday that UC Berkeley, along with two other campuses, will lead the western regional “brain trust,” which plans to encourage the sharing of ideas, resources and practices of data science to address regional issues.

The NSF will be giving $5 million over three years to four regional big data hubs. Big data refers to new technologies used to gather and interpret large amounts of data.

UC Berkeley’s involvement with the West Hub will bring opportunities for research and collaboration to a range of fields on campus, according to Michael Franklin, one of the principal investigators for the West Hub and chair of UC Berkeley’s computer science division.

“The idea is to put together teams to attack important societal problems where Big Data can help, particularly ones that are relevant to the Western states,” Franklin said in an email.

Each hub will be focusing on issues important to its region, according to Fen Zhao, an NSF strategic innovation staff associate. The West Hub will be focusing primarily on big data technology, managing natural resources and hazards, urban planning and data-enabled scientific discovery, among others.

According to Meredith Lee, the West Hub’s executive director, the goal of the grant is to increase involvement in and awareness of big data. She said that with 86 partners with the western regional brain trust already, there’s great interest from the technology industry.

Lee said UC Berkeley’s “great history of having open source technologies” and the campus’s placement in the San Francisco Bay Area made it stand out to the NSF. According to Zhao, the “access to a lot of startups and large technology companies” makes Berkeley a unique location for a hub.

UC Berkeley has several big data projects under way, many of which exist at the campus’s Algorithms, Machines and People Laboratory, or AMPLab. The AMPLab won an NSF grant of $10 million in 2012, and developed the Berkeley Data Analytics Stack, a software that interprets big data.

The NSF plans to award up to an additional $10 million in the next phase of grants called the Big Data Spokes, for projects with the same goals as the hubs but with a narrower scope. The proposed projects must become formally affiliated with a hub to be eligible.

There will be two webinars open for public view Thursday, in which a panel including Lee and other hub representatives will be discussing topics including the development of grassroots data science organizations as well as the plans, mechanisms and coordination in the hubs.

“We’re looking forward to hearing ideas from all stakeholders that have an interest in data science innovation in how we can add to the ecosystem (of big data),” Lee said.

Contact Pressly Pratt at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @prezzliray.