South Big Data Hub receives second round of NSF funding

$4 million will support continued innovation and problem-solving in the Southern data science community

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently announced the second phase of funding for the regional Big Data Innovation Hubs (Hubs). Each of the Hubs will receive $4 million over four years for a total investment of $16 million.

Each Hub is located in one of the four U.S. Census regions (South, Northeast, Midwest, and West) and serves as a thought leader and convening force on social and economic challenges that are unique to the region by playing four key roles: (1) Accelerating public-private partnerships that break down barriers between industry, academia, and government, (2) Growing R&D communities that connect data scientists with domain scientists and practitioners, (3) Facilitating data sharing and shared cyberinfrastructure and services, and (4) Building data science capacity for education and workforce development.

“Developing innovative, effective solutions to grand challenges requires linking scientists and engineers with local communities,” said Jim Kurose, assistant director for Computer and Information Science and Engineering at NSF. “The Big Data Hubs provide the glue to achieve those links, bringing together teams of data science researchers with cities, municipalities, and anchor institutions.”

Solutions for the Southern Region

Led jointly by the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) at UNC-Chapel Hill and the Georgia Institute of Technology, the South Hub focuses their primary efforts on the Southern Region, which consists of 16 states – from Texas to Delaware – and the District of Columbia with more than 1000 members from universities, corporations, foundations, and cities.

The South Hub’s priority areas include data science education and workforce, data sharing and cyberinfrastructure, health and health disparities, materials and advanced manufacturing, and smart cities and communities. The environment, social cybersecurity, and team science serve as cross-cutting areas of interest driving connection and research in the Southern Region.

“The Big Data Hubs provide a connective tissue for the data science ecosystem across sectors and domains,” said Renata Rawlings-Goss, executive director of the South Hub. “I am deeply pleased by NSF’s recommitment to the growth of the South Hub and our community. Over the last three years, we have made great strides within our priority areas and are looking to broaden that reach in the next four years.”

In addition to serving as a connector through the organization of working groups and events, the Hubs also sponsor research important to their regions through the Big Data Spokes program. Previous South Hub Spoke projects have improved data science infrastructure, facilitated information exchange across sectors, and enhanced access to research data in a range of areas. Current Southern Spokes are focused on enhanced 3-D mapping for coastal and wetland areas, smart privacy for smart cities, and integrating biological big data research into student training and education.

“Data science is having a transformative effect on the entire scientific community,” said Stan Ahalt, principal investigator for the South Hub. “Our Hub enables us to leverage data science expertise in order to have an impact for good throughout the entire southeast region.”

This new phase of funding will also incorporate a seed fund focusing on translational data science, which will allow each Hub to pilot innovative new solutions to grand challenges important to each Hub’s region.