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The Triangle - The Independent Student Newspaper at Drexel University

iSchool Center to tackle Big Data

The National Science Foundation has awarded the iSchool at Drexel funding to start and run a center to tackle big data challenges that are facing companies in various industries as part of a joint venture with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

The Center for Visual and Decision Informatics is funded by the Industry/University Cooperative Research Center and will join academic researchers with industry professionals to develop the most productive ways of gathering, organizing and interpreting data.

Xiaohua Tony Hu, iSchool professor and co-director of the CVDI, explained that the center aims to “develop nice, efficient tools to look through the huge amount of data and find interesting patterns.”

The CVDI will work within certain industries to help decipher all of the data from the overwhelming amount of information available to companies.

“We’re not going to solve the problem, but in working together with [industry representatives], we hope that we can find more useful knowledge and information, which will enable them to make better decisions,” Hu said.

Big Data has the potential to transform the way businesses are run and how executives make decisions, and the CVDI will help Drexel be at the forefront of the revolution. Every industry can utilize data-processing programs because each has its own information and numbers to be analyzed.

The technical scope for the center explains that its focus will be “the creation of a new set of Decision-Making Environments that allows user[s] to explore and customize information streams in a variety of modalities to gain better insight to information.”

Computer companies aren’t the only ones utilizing data analysis in their operations. Retail stores can input information and receive analyses to help them predict consumers’ purchasing patterns and help them establish the best time to mark down their products. Police departments across the country use data systems to predict likely locations for crime based on weather, crime patterns, sporting events and other factors.

“For example, we’re working with a big pharmaceutical company. We can help them to speed up the drug discovery procedure,” Hu said. “We’re working with the Children’s Hospital of [Philadelphia], and we’re hoping we can help them to make a smarter diagnosis.”

The center isn’t just beneficial for its founders and the industries it will work with; it also creates opportunities for students who are interested in data processing. Because CVDI is one of less than 20 similar centers across the nation, Drexel students will have valuable opportunities to learn from professors that work at the center and learn firsthand by working there themselves. There will be a few co-op positions available at the CVDI, but the definite number has not yet been determined.