Researchers throughout Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute are coming together to develop a new interdisciplinary Data Science Research Center. The center will bring together top researchers from every school within Rensselaer as well as collaborators at other universities and corporations to develop new and better ways to store, protect, share, and gain knowledge from scientific data.
“The goal of this center is to attack difficult problems that require interdisciplinary collaborations. These problems can range from attacking a cancerous tumor to climate change,” said Bulent Yener, the center director and professor of computer science at Rensselaer. “By bringing together data and experts from different disciplines and perspectives, we can greatly increase the potential of our individual research and funding.”
The center brings together researchers in biology, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, astronomy, physics, economics, cognitive science, and computer science.
Yener has ambitious goals for the handling of data within the center. Researchers will work together to take complex data and transform it in ways that make it usable to a wide variety of scientists, protect it for the long term, and enable it to provide as much knowledge as possible to the scientific community as well as the general public. This will be accomplished by adding semantics to data where possible to make it usable to a variety of machines and programs; storing the data in intelligent ways; mining the data to extract as much knowledge as possible from it; building models to represent the structure of the data; and using those models to build simulations and visualizations of the data to display the data in a usable way and predict how the data will change over time.
“We live in a data intensive world where advances in high-throughput computing and sensors allow us to collect amounts of data never thought possible every second,” Yener said. “The center seeks to extract and preserve as much knowledge as possible from this never-ending supply of increasingly complex data.”
The center will also utilize some of the main research platforms at Rensselaer, including the technologies of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS), the supercomputing power of the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI), and the sensory and visualization technologies of the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC).
“We want to bring these resources together to develop data, mine that data, and then create visualizations of the data that bring together sensory equipment within EMPAC and the informatics capabilities of CCNI,” Yener said. “Think of the possibilities here: The end result might be the ability to stand in a performance space at EMPAC and walk through a virtual cancer tumor and physically observe the impact of different drug treatments.”
In its earliest stage, the center plans to continue to bring on new faculty and develop its research agenda to attract additional collaborators and center funding. One of the first research projects to be undertaken by the center focuses on tissue modeling. Center members will seek to model cancer and stem cell development. These models could help researchers develop new ways to diagnose cancer and provide them with a better understanding of how stem cells grow and change within the human body.