New institute promises to stimulate research, NY economy

The engineering school at Columbia University is developing an institute that will focus on analyzing huge data sets in innovative, interdisciplinary ways.
Written by Reena Jana, Contributor

Supported by a recently awarded $15 million grant from New York City, Columbia University is developing the Institute for Data Science and Engineering to further the field of Big Data analysis. The new Institute, announced this past summer, is overseen by Columbia's engineering school. It was awarded the grant as part of New York's Applied Sciences NYC initiative. The goal is to ultimately stimulate New York's economy and to commercialize innovations that might be hatched at the new Institute.

The Institute will focus on five topics: smart cities, new media, health analytics, financial analytics, and cyber security, reports Columbia magazine in its Fall 2012 issue.

Columbia professors and researchers are already making waves in creative -- and practical -- Big Data analysis, from journalism profs using data-mining programs to find patterns in election speeches, to medical researchers studying how genetic data might help doctors tailor medication in the future.

The University has committed to raise a minimum of $80 million in the private sector and to hire 75 new professors and instructors for the Institute by the year 2030. They will work across disciplines with faculty outside of engineering who are looking for solutions to real-world challenges via analyzing very large data sets.

An economic-impact analysis from New York's Economic Development Corporation projects that the Institute will generate $3.9 billion in business for the city within the next 30 years, Columbia magazine reports.

The first phase of creating the Institute will be finished in 2016, when a physical home for the Institute will open in Columbia's existing Mudd building, also home to its engineering school. (Additional space will be carved out of the Northwest Corner Building at Columbia, which is still under construction; in future years, the Institute will expand to the Audubon building on Columbia's medical school campus.)

I couldn't help but wonder, writing this post less than a week after superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast, that given the newest, and frankly one of the greatest, challenges that New York is facing, it will be particularly fascinating to see if and how all five of the Institute's key topics might converge in the context of Sandy's damage. How will data related to Sandy affect the development of smart cities, journalistic coverage of disasters, and future modes of tracking the health and economic concerns of a metropolis besieged by unprecedented storms? In many ways, the location of this Institute in New York might offer unique local opportunities in terms of post-Sandy data analysis and action based on that data -- opportunities likely to translate into national and global impacts.

Image: InSapphoWeTrust/Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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