NSF awards $23 million to Purdue’s Center for Science of Information

September 14, 2015  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue University has been awarded $23 million over the next five years from the National Science Foundation for The Center for Science of Information.

The NSF awarded Purdue $25 million in 2010 to establish the center, which is the first and only National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center in Indiana. The new grant extends the total span of funding to 10 years, the maximum funding period for such centers.

"The Center for Science of Information's cross-disciplinary research efforts have led to fundamentally new explorations in diverse areas such as life sciences, economics, communication systems and social sciences, among others," said John Cozzens, an NSF program director. "In addition, it has fostered an active and thriving community of students and scholars within academia and industry, and broadened its geographic scope to national and international levels."

The center's focus is on the extension of classical information theory, which led to basic technologies underlying digital communications - paving the way for the Internet, mobile devices and the Internet of Things - to meet the new challenges posed by the rapid expansion in the amount and complexity of available data, said Wojciech Szpankowski (pronounced "Voi-check Shpan-cow-vski"), Purdue's Saul Rosen Professor of Computer Science who leads the center.

"Data is not only communicated, it is processed, aggregated, managed, valued, secured and used," he said. "Information theory needs to be extended to make possible another data revolution."

The center's advances over the past five years are leading to technological solutions and tools for analysis and modeling for the life sciences, communications, financial transactions and consumer behavior patterns.

 "Solutions to problems in information theory are the key to harnessing the power and potential of big data," said Suresh Garimella, Purdue's executive vice president for research and partnerships. "Our colleagues from the center are now applying advances achieved through their earlier work to specific problems and projects that are attracting significant funding and interest from federal agencies and industry. This meets NSF's goals for such centers, and the team at Purdue's Center for the Science of Information is having great success. We are eagerly looking forward to their accomplishments in the coming five years." 

Finding solutions and harnessing the power and potential of big data is a key part of the university's Purdue Moves initiative.

The center includes 11 other member institutions and brings together expertise in information theory, computer science, chemistry, economics, statistics, life sciences, mathematics and physics. Its research has led to more than 200 journal publications, patents and partnerships with researchers across campus, said Ananth Grama, the center's associate director and knowledge transfer director.

"Our science becomes a fundamental part of their science," said Grama, a professor of computer science. "We help researchers cast their problems in a form to which we can develop and apply powerful models and methods in conjunction with large existing datasets to derive fundamental results."  

The center also brings in funding for other projects built on the foundation of its research, he said. Szpankowski and Grama have won a combined $3 million in federal funding for such projects this year as well as more than $1 million in funding from industry for collaborative projects.

Examples of such projects include algorithms and software for genomic sequence assembly in collaboration with Pacific Biosciences, work on using Google Glass to monitor blood glucose levels in real time, and collaboration with Amgen on advanced methods for drug design, Grama said.

Moving forward, the center will focus on multimodal data or data that is a mix of multiple types of data structures, which is the natural evolution of the work, Szpankowski said.

"A data structure can be considered one view of an object," he said. "For instance, if you are interested in information about an individual, a resume is one view, a photo is another, social media presence is another. These are different ways of viewing the same person. We want to know how to put all of these different views together to provide the best answer to a question posed. Collecting data is the easy part, extracting valuable and reliable information from that data is a significant challenge."

With the new grant, the administrative team will create a $1 million seed fund to fund research projects proposed by partner institutions over the next five years.

Partner institutions in the Science of Information Center are Bryn Mawr College; Howard University; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Princeton University; Stanford University; Texas A&M University; University of California, Berkeley; University of California, San Diego; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Co-principal investigators are Peter Shor of MIT, Sergio Verdu of Princeton, Andrea Goldsmith of Stanford and Bin Yu of UC Berkeley.

The center has had success in initiating collaborations among researchers from different institutions, which Szpankowski credits in part to the creation of center-wide postdoctoral positions, which gives young researchers the opportunity to work with several top minds in the field. The center also is working to create a complete undergraduate program with courses covering topics ranging from core theoretical foundations to applications of the science of information.

Undergraduates have already been a part of the center through programs to provide research experiences. Diversity is a center priority, and the participating undergraduates in 2014 were 58 percent women and 39 percent African American or Hispanic, said Kelly Andronicos, the center's diversity director.

The center is aligned with Purdue's goal of leadership in computer and information science. Purdue Moves is an initiative designed to broaden the university's global impact and enhance student educational opportunities. Purdue Moves priorities fit into four broad categories: science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) leadership; world-changing research; transformative education; and affordability and accessibility.

Writer: Elizabeth K. Gardner, 765-494-2081, ekgardner@purdue.edu

Sources: Wojciech Szpankowski, 765-494-6703, spa@cs.purdue.edu

Ananth Grama, 765-494-6964, ayg@cs.purdue.edu

Suresh Garimella, 765-494-9095, sureshg@purdue.edu

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