CLEMSON Recent advances in technology have created mountains of data that can be collected, sorted and mined to address complex issues facing society. This data deluge — called “Big Data” — has challenged researchers at Clemson University and elsewhere to decipher the growing information in a meaningful way.

In response, the National Science Foundation (NSF) unveiled the Big Data Regional Innovation Hubs (BD Hubs) program this week to bring together academia, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and other interested parties to solve big data problems and accelerate innovation. Clemson has joined the South Big Data Regional Innovation Hub (South BD Hub), managed jointly by Georgia Tech and UNC-Chapel Hill as one of four Regional BD Hubs. The new initiative brings together researchers and industries to work together on big data problems in different areas and underlying cyberinfrastructure.

Clemson comes well-equipped in its work with BD Hubs, which will engage regional businesses and research organizations as well as develop governance structures and “spoke projects” based on regional priorities and partnerships to tackle Big Data goals. The university maintains multiple major Big Data research projects in genomics, connected transportation, smart grid and smart cities along with its leadership role in advancing the cyberinfrastructure necessary for big data computing through multiple NSF initiatives.

Associate Professor Alex Feltus of Clemson’s genetics and biochemistry department, is attending NSF BD Hub organizational meetings to showcase the university’s important perspective on Big Data to BD Hub members.

“Clemson is extremely progressive in internal and external engagement in the areas of research computing where Big Data computing is an emerging reality,” he said. “I see BD Hub ‘spokes’ leading to disruptive science and technology development. I believe that aggressive big data research and education partnerships with the private sector will propel Clemson up the list of public research institutions.”

Associate Professor Kuang-Ching Wang of Clemson’s electrical and computer engineering department said the university has worked in multiple areas to move research forward. Wang also co-directs Clemson’s Center of Excellence in Next Generation Computing and Creativity.

“This is a timely initiative for us, and Clemson has a unique angle to most of our initiatives and how we bring people and technology together,” he said. “We are confident that Clemson will help the BD Hub build the connections among partners, as well as within the university community.”

The South BD Hub will serve Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

It will be developed in three phases: an initial phase to establish the basic governance structure, a transitional phase that will move toward an operational structure and a final operational phase. It will have dual locations in Atlanta and North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, with co-executive directors accountable to Hub partners. Initial spokes of the South BD Hub will apply big data analysis to scientific and social issues in five areas:

  • Health Care, including disparities in health, access to health care, and health outcomes, precision medicine, and health analytics.
  • Coastal Hazards, including understanding and mitigating the consequences of natural and manmade disasters.
  • Industrial Big Data, including cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things, data-driven management of physical infrastructure, and power generation, transmission, and distribution from a variety of sources.
  • Materials and Manufacturing, including data-driven contributions to the materials genome initiative and bridging the gap between materials science and manufacturing practice.
  • Habitat Planning, including urban infrastructure, smart cities efforts, transportation, rural-urban infrastructure, and wildlife habitat and conservation.

“The award of the South Big Data Regional Innovation Hub to Georgia Tech and UNC-Chapel Hill provides the right context for collaboration among 75 stakeholders in academia, industry and the nonprofit sectors, which will allow us to — for the first time — address large-scale challenges facing many Southern states,” said Srinivas Aluru, co-principal investigator at Georgia Tech and professor in the School of Computational Science and Engineering. “Data science touches all aspects of the human experience and the Hub will enable us to bring data together in a complementary way for better problem solving in our communities. It already is initiating new collaboration and dialogue among many large stakeholders in a way that would not have happened otherwise.”

“The important problems of our time — from solving disparities in health care to understanding the risks of coastal storms and floods — involve making sense of massive amounts of data,” said Ashok Krishnamurthy, deputy director at RENCI and co-principal investigator with Aluru on the South BD Hub project. “The chance to lead this project with Georgia Tech means we will be at the forefront of using data for the public good.”

Initial NSF funding for the South BD Hub will be $1.25 million over three years. In addition to the South BD Hub, the NSF has funded Hubs in the Northeast, Midwest and Western United States, which are managed by universities in those regions.