Columbia Research Teams Combine Data Science With Traditional Academic Fields to Solve Societal Problems

Hazardous pollutants in the atmosphere.

One team aims to eradicate the tsetse fly from Africa, a parasitic insect that has decimated most of the cattle in sub-Saharan Africa. A second team is enhancing satellite-images to better characterize hazardous pollutants in the atmosphere. And a third team has identified genetic pathways in the brain associated with depression, a discovery that could help develop treatments for some of the millions of people diagnosed with the disease.

These are three projects funded recently by the Data Science Institute Seeds Fund Program. DSI awarded the grants to a total of five research teams whose overarching objective is to merge data science with traditional fields to solve societal problems. Each of the five teams will receive up to $100,000 for one year and be eligible for a second year of funding. This is the second year of the Seeds Fund program; last year five teams also received the grants.

The program encourages and supports collaborations between faculty members and researchers from various disciplines and departments throughout Columbia, so that the most advanced data science techniques will infuse and transform many fields at the university, may it be public health, physics, genetics, healthcare, or environmental science.

“In awarding these grants, the DSI review committee selected projects that brought together teams of scholars who will push the state-of-the-art in data science while using data science responsibly and ethically,” said Jeannette M. Wing, Avanessians Director of the Data Science Institute. “The five winning teams combine data-science experts with domain experts who together aspire to solve wicked hard societal problems.”

The Seeds Fund Program is just one of many initiatives that Wing has spearheaded since the summer of 2017 when she was named director of DSI. Her other initiatives include founding a Post-Doctoral Fellows Program, a Faculty Recruiting Program, and an Undergraduate Research Program. She also hired leading research scientists, helped organize workshops and a bootcamp on “Data for Good” for the Obama Foundation Scholars, and continues to host Data Science Day, an annual conference that brings together leaders in the field from industry, government and academia. This year’s conference is scheduled for April 3, 2019, when the DSI Seed Fund teams – this year’s winners as well as five teams from 2018 – will present their pioneering research.

— Robert Florida, Data Science Institute

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