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Big Plans for Big Data

New institute to tap into the power of information

Big data is seemingly everywhere these days. Sets of data so massive and complex that they require sophisticated tools to analyze, big data figures into every mouse click on Amazon or Facebook. Baseball’s Billy Beane tapped into the power of statistical analysis of data to create his “Moneyball” system, catapulting the Oakland A’s to success. Big data was even used to identify the Boston Marathon bombers—the FBI gathered 10 terabytes of data within 24 hours of the explosions.

Don Brown
It’s also at UVA, and the formation of a new Big Data Institute will bring together faculty from across Grounds to tackle the challenges—and opportunities—of massive data sets. “We’re a comprehensive university, but have the advantage of having all our schools so close together,” Tom Skalak, vice president for research, told the Cavalier Daily. “For example, medicine could interact with statistics and law on questions about genomic diseases to then analyze the policy and ethical implications the research may have.”

Engineering professor Don Brown, an expert on data fusion, statistical learning and predictive modeling, has been named the institute’s founding director. “Big data is something that has multiple definitions, but it’s characterized by one or more of three attributes: amount, the rapidity with which it comes in, and its variety. Currently, many domains, including science, engineering, health care, environmental science, e-commerce and, increasingly, the humanities, generate massive amounts of data. These data are accumulating to the point where making sense of them is a huge challenge.”