Duke Recieves Nearly $10M in Grants for Big Data Initiative

April 29, 2015
Duke University has received $9.75 million in gifts and matching funds to support an initiative that focuses on making sense of big data in several sectors, including healthcare.

Duke University has received $9.75 million in gifts and matching funds to support an initiative that focuses on making sense of big data in several sectors, including healthcare.

Launched in 2013, the Information Initiative at Duke (iiD) brings together faculty and graduate and undergraduate students to make sense of information characterized by tremendous volume, variety and rapid change. The goal is to address a wide range of issues—from the identification of counterfeit art to the early detection of disease, Duke officials say. The iiD is the cornerstone of the Information, Society and Culture theme of Bass Connections, another Duke initiative that encourages student and faculty collaboration across traditional academic boundaries on issues of global importance.

The gifts will endow iiD professorships, graduate fellowships in engineering, and educational programs on data-driven problem-solving, both in the classroom and in the field. In the past two years, iiD teams of Duke faculty and students have analyzed and interpreted unending torrents of data captured by computers, cameras, sensors and smart phones. Projects so far have included collaborations with Duke Medicine to deploy personalized healthcare. In one iiD project, faculty and students are working together to facilitate screening for autism and childhood mental disorders. By designing algorithms to automatically detect abnormal movements or behaviors captured on video, the team hopes to provide valuable tools to help clinicians detect symptoms and intervene earlier.

“If we can find patterns in the data that point to just a few simple tests or questions that truly indicate a problem, that would be a tremendous tool for clinicians,” said Guillermo Sapiro, a professor in engineering and computer science who co-leads the project with Duke child psychiatrist Dr. Helen Egger. “It’s an exciting project because the contribution to society could be huge.”

Other iiD collaborations include: with the Duke University Energy Initiative to understand energy usage and improve efficiency; and with Duke’s Social Science Research Institute to inform better public policies. Teams are also tackling the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges for Engineering, such as reverse-engineering the brain to uncover its vast, unrealized potential and to improve detection and treatment of brain-related diseases, officials say.

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