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Oregon scientists team up to use big data to address societal challenges

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Data scientists from Oregon’s three largest universities have received a $1.4 million National Science Foundation grant to help fellow scientists across the Northwest address challenges such as earthquake preparedness, securing electrical power systems and improved environmental health.

“Today, increasingly powerful computing technologies have opened the pathway for researchers to address major global challenges through use of large data sets and complex models and simulations,” said Brett Tyler, the principal investigator on the grant and the director of the Center of Genome Research & Biocomputing at Oregon State University.

“This funding will provide access to those technologies to a range of scientists at institutions across our region to help them generate discoveries in fields including biology, forestry, engineering, energy and marine sciences.”

Here are a few examples of how the project will address major societal challenges:

  • Earthquake hazards are numerous and include strong shaking, tsunamis and landslides. Understanding their physics, and their likelihoods of occurrence can inform important decisions about where and how to build infrastructure and to ensure resilience. This funding will help researchers integrate massive amounts of data to produce accurate, actionable forecasts of earthquake and tsunami impacts and how to mitigate them.
  • Electrical power systems are rapidly growing smarter and greener technology. The sophisticated computing systems needed to balance a wide array of incoming power sources, however, makes these networks vulnerable to cyberattacks. This funding will assist the development of sophisticated management systems that can detect, respond to, and recover from cyberattacks in real-time.
  • The health of earth’s land and water ecosystems, including farming and forestry ecosystems, are challenged by the impacts of climate change, water shortages, increased urbanization and pollution. This funding will assist researchers to acquire environmental data including harmful chemicals, microbial and plankton populations, endangered species, plant and animal health, and features of the built environment, and to integrate those complex data into models that can inform better management practices.

Tyler will be assisted by two co-principal investigators: Jake Searcy, associate director of artificial intelligence for the University of Oregon’s Data Science Initiative and Research Advanced Computing Services; and Jason Podrabsky, a biology professor at Portland State University.

The project will establish a team of data analytics and training professionals at the three universities to disseminate expertise and training materials in data integration, data analytics and machine learning.

The team will include four facilitators – two at Oregon State and one each at the University of Oregon and Portland State – who will provide research consultations and training to researchers across the region.

Partnerships will be established with other colleges and universities in Oregon and southern Washington, including several Hispanic-serving and Native American-serving institutions, through research collaborations, summer research opportunities for students; training faculty; collaboratively developing curriculum; and online program activities.

A multi-campus training program will be established that will include short courses and colloquia; contributions to existing data analytics courses, webinars and online materials; and a cross-institutional users’ group.

Leaders of the project plan for it to establish a long-term presence in the region beyond the life cycle of the grant.

“This is a great example of Oregon universities coming together around data science to support economic development and workforce training in our region,” said Irem Tumer, Oregon State’s interim vice president for research.

The project involves the following partners: Greta Binford and Peter Drake (Lewis & Clark College); Tanya Cheeke (Washington State University Tri-Cities); Peter Hernberg (Blue Mountain Community College); Kristina Holton (Linn-Benton Community College); Sue Monahan (Western Oregon University); Stephanie Porter (Washington State University Vancouver); Suzy Renn (Reed College); Timor Saffary (Chemeketa Community College); Fabrizzio Soares (Southern Oregon University); Mandy Terrill (Oregon Health & Science University); John Tsiligkaridis (Heritage University); Jeremy Weisz (Linfield College); and Pam Wiese and Kay Lopez (Mt. Hood Community College).

Article Topic Follows: Oregon-Northwest

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