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November 20, 2013

Data science a top priority in University’s strategic plan

University makes $50M commitment to create Institute for Data Science and add faculty

rendering of new data science building
The building that will house the Institute for Data Science is planned near several buildings housing science and engineering programs.


The University is committing $50 million—in addition to more than $50 million it has spent in recent years—to greatly expand its work in the burgeoning field of data science.

The commitment will include the creation of an Institute for Data Science, construction of a state-of-the art building to house it, and as many as 20 new faculty members with expertise in the field.

President Joel Seligman made the announcement as part of his opening remarks at the Rochester Big Data Forum 2013, at which renowned researchers in data science from around the nation are meeting for a day of interdisciplinary talks and discussions.

“This is the top University priority for the University’s 2013–18 strategic plans that were adopted by the Board of Trustees on Oct. 11. Data science is a defining discipline of the 21st century. By combining sophisticated analytic techniques with rapidly improving computational capabilities, data science can help extract useful information from the quintillions of bytes of data that are created every day. It is the foundation, for example, of data-informed, personalized medicine, is central to national security and defense, and has already changed online commerce,” said Seligman.

“The field of data science is taking off, and we’re jumping in with both feet,” says Robert Clark, senior vice president for research and dean of the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “We want to make the most of the opportunities that data science offers and, by hiring a significant number of experts in this field in the next few years, we can ensure that the applications of data science advance research across campus.”

Clark says he expects that the new institute will have an impact on the Rochester region through collaborations with local companies and through new companies emerging. “The investment opens up great opportunities for the translation of the discoveries and new techniques that are developed to the commercial sector, and we will also be producing highly trained specialists in this area,” Clark says. This would continue a long tradition of entrepreneurship at the University, he adds, citing as an example the University’s Institute of Optics, whose faculty, staff and alumni have gone on to lead or found 160 companies, many of them locally.

The initiative builds on current University strengths in data science, including the Health Science Center for Computational Innovation (which hosts an IBM Blue Gene/Q supercomputer), and the active research that is carried out in fields such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, and biostatistics. It will also leverage existing collaborations with companies such as IBM and Xerox in data science.

“Rochester researchers are already exploiting the tools of data science in their work,” says Henry Kautz, chair of the Department of Computer Science and director of the Rochester Big Data Initiative. “For example, data science has been a key part of research done here to model and predict the spread of infectious diseases, to track the popularity of political ideas, to understand consumer preferences, and to predict the existence of planets.”

The new faculty members will be recruited in several departments: biostatistics, psychiatry, physics, computer science, political science, and others. But data science will be a critical component of their work, either as developers or users. The faculty members will also open the way to new areas of research as the work of the institute develops. Three domains of initial research focus have been identified: health analysis, cognitive systems and artificial intelligence, and analytics on demand.

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