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It’s becoming an increasingly data driven world. And those organizations that can make sense of the vast arrays of information are poised to lead the way to new innovations, and hopefully a better way for all of us to live.

Now, the University of Washington, along with a consortium that includes the University of California, Berkeley, and New York University, has secured a 5-year, $37.8 million grant to explore new ways to harness the power of data to transform fields such as astrophysics, genetics and economics. The money is being provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

“All across our campus, the process of discovery will increasingly rely on researchers’ ability to extract knowledge from vast amounts of data,” said UW project lead Ed Lazowska, a professor of computer science and engineering and director of the eScience Institute. “To remain at the forefront, the UW must be a leader in advancing the methodologies of data science and putting them to work in the broadest imaginable range of fields.”

Ed Lazowska
Ed Lazowska

The University of Washington has already been bolstering its efforts in the data science field, with a number of new professors joining in the past two years.

But the new program — not to mention the cash — will assist in other ways too. The funds will allow the university to hire new researchers, including five data scientists who will work with various departments across campus to figure out new techniques to mine the data they are producing. The funds also will support four post doctoral data science fellows.

The UW also plans to establish a “data science studio” on campus in order to encourage collaboration among students and faculty on this important topic.

“We see enormous potential in the cross-pollination that happens by having participants co-locate in the data science studio,” said Bill Howe, co-lead of the new effort and a UW affiliate assistant professor of computer science and engineering. “These projects will help expose common problems and enable collaboration as we continue to scale up our investment in data science expertise.”

The new initiative was announced Tuesday as a featured talk at a White House Office of Science and Technology Policy event.

“It’s been hard to establish these essential roles as durable and attractive career paths in academic research,” said Josh Greenberg, who directs the Sloan Foundation’s Digital Information Technology program. “This joint project will work to create examples at the three universities that demonstrate how an institution-wide commitment to data scientists can deliver dramatic gains in scientific productivity.”

In addition to the funds from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. the UW also received a $2.8 million Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship grant from the National Science Foundation.

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