​University of Sydney to fight social challenges with new data science centre

The centre will interpret data to solve real world problems including the creation of tools and software that can address economic and social challenges.

The University of Sydney has launched its Centre for Translational Data Science that is eager to fight social challenges, having already kicked off data-driven projects in a bid to prevent crime, reduce youth unemployment, and advance medical treatment.

Speaking during the university's Innovation Week, the centre's director, professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte, said that data is the currency of the digital age and that he expects it to be an age of wonder if his team succeeds in exploiting information to their best advantage.

The university already uses data scientists in the areas of engineering, physics, and health research; however it is anticipated that the new centre will enable data expertise to leverage research across a much wider range of disciplines from criminology to nursing, psychology to government, and from veterinary science to geoscience.

"This is the latest in our whole-of-university multi-disciplinary initiatives, building on the success of the approach exemplified by the Charles Perkins Centre, Brain and Mind Centre, Australian Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, the China Studies Centre and the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre", Dr Michael Spence, vice-chancellor of the University of Sydney, said.

"It supports the University of Sydney's commitment to delivering the highest impact from our research whether social, scientific, or economic and includes commercial developments for national benefit."

The centre is currently working with the Brain and Mind Research Centre, alongside a number of public sector, non-government, and corporate organisations to understand what enables young people with problems to stay in or rejoin employment, education, or training.

"The better we can understand how complex factors such as family, mental health, or socioeconomic issues and their interactions lead to disengagement, the earlier measures can be taken to prevent what may become a lifetime of lost opportunity," the university said.

The centre will have support from the Sydney Informatics Hub to build skills, capacity, community, and collaboration in data science across the university.

The multi-million dollar research hub employs a team of 15 data science engineers that work with the university's academics and clinicians to extract information from data. The informatics facility will also provide high-performance computing, data storage, data privacy, and software engineering support to the new translational data science centre.

As both the hub and the Centre for Translational Data Science rely on the availability of high performance computing, the university also announced this week it has tripled the size of its high performance computer Artemis, which was developed by the university in partnership with Dell Australia in June last year.

Earlier this week, the university announced the launch of an on-campus innovation hub, aimed at fixing Australia's historic inability to turn ideas into "wealth generating businesses".

According to James Meade, head of the Sydney Social Innovation Hub, universities have an essential role to play in fostering entrepreneurship and innovation in both the private and public sectors.

"Innovation and entrepreneurship requires enthusiasm and we have lots of that. But it also requires targeted support. By leveraging informal knowledge networks within the university we can enable successful student innovation outcomes," Meade said on Monday.

"The Sydney Social Innovation Hub will provide a central facility for students of all faculties to co-create and innovate with academics, community, and industry."

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