NSF Invests $4 Million in Big Data for Southern United States

NSF Invests $4 Million in Big Data for Southern United States

Precision medicine and understanding health disparities, innovation to power competitive manufacturing, technology for smarter communities, and addressing coastal hazards such as hurricanes are among the challenges facing the Southern United States. A $4 million award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will help apply data science and engineering to address those challenges.

The funding will continue support for the South Big Data Innovation Hub, an organization that helps 16 Southern States and the District of Columbia identify and utilize data science and engineering to address critical societal needs. One of four NSF-supported regional data hubs in the U.S., the South Big Data Hub is managed by the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“The Big Data Hubs provide a connective tissue for the data science ecosystem across sectors and domains,” said Renata Rawlings-Goss, the Hub’s executive director. “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.”

The NSF-supported data hubs play 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 cyber infrastructure and services, and (4) Building data science capacity for education and workforce development.

“There is a global shortage of data science and analytics talent that is threatening the future of innovation,” added Rawlings-Goss. “By working across sectors, the South Hub joins in creating solutions to increase the capacity of universities and industry to work on pressing problems for our region and for the world.”

Priorities for the hubs are determined regionally to bring together collaborators that include academics, community leaders, local and state government executives, regional businesses, national laboratories and others, explained Srinivas Aluru and Stanley Ahalt, the two principal investigators for the South Big Data Hub, which was launched in 2015.

“We want to collaborate to help solve regional problems using the resources of the Hub,” explained Aluru. “We are addressing truly regional issues that affect more than one state and more than one set of collaborators. These are challenges that can only be addressed by bringing these groups together.”

The south region is pursuing five major big data priorities:

  • Health and Disparities: High impact applications of data science in precision medicine, health analytics, and health disparities. “If you look at the health outcomes, they differ by ethnic groups. Trying to understand and address these health disparities is one of our big data challenges,” Aluru said.
  • Smart Cities and Communities: Collection and integration of data on infrastructure, sensors, and behavior to design efficient use of resources and services, and to achieve a higher quality, affordable lifestyle, as well as concrete applications of analytics and machine learning to improve the nation’s energy production and smart grid.
  • Advanced Materials and Manufacturing: Access to data infrastructure for creating new materials for advanced manufacturing in every state. “Manufacturing is very important to the Southeast, and we plan to work with the state manufacturing extension partnerships in different states, trying to inject big data techniques into materials science and manufacturing to shorten the deployment cycle,” Aluru added.
  • Environment and Coastal Hazards: Prevention and enhanced response to natural and human-induced environmental hazards. Southern states are disproportionately affected by hurricanes on both the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. Understanding these threats and how best to protect people and property is critical.
  • Social Cybersecurity: Best practices across sectors to forecast cyber-mediated changes in human behavior to ensure private, secure, and ethical data sharing, reporting, and use. “In modern times the virtual world is a force in and of itself; we want to support transparency in how it can change interactions and social outcomes,” adds Rawlings-Goss.

The new NSF award includes seed funding designed to evaluate the feasibility of new big data projects. Part of a hub-and-spoke system, the seed money should help create new spokes to address specific data issues identified by collaborators.

“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 the 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.”

Ultimately, the goal is to harness the synergy of the collaborators to address issues that require the use of data science and engineering techniques.

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

The South Big Data Hub is funded through the National Science Foundation’s Big Data Science & Engineering Program, Awards 1916589 and 1916454 and previously 1550305 and 1550291.

2019 PEPI-G Fellows Selected

The Program to Empower Partnerships with Industry and Government (PEPI-G) supports faculty members, research scientists, postdocs, and graduate and undergraduate students (rising juniors and seniors as of 2019) from the 16 states that comprise the South Big Data Regional Innovation Hub (South BD Hub).

2019 Fellows

James Stevenson is an undergraduate student at Northern Kentucky University and is currently pursuing his degree in Information Technology with his focus being Cybersecurity. He’s a technologist at heart and enjoys everything related to cyberinfrastructure, social cybersecurity, the internet of things, and data manipulation. His goals for his senior year of college are to gain professional experience in his career field and to develop his technical skills. This fellowship provided by the Big South Data Hub will allow him to reach these goals.

Rachel St Clair is a doctoral student at Florida Atlantic University studying Complex Systems and Brain Sciences. Rachel’s main focus centers in multi-modal, translational machine learning in complex systems and brain sciences. Her background in both medicine and biology helps structure the integration of machine learning models for both academia and industry applications. Previous work involves a variety of research fields including mental disorder diagnosis, epileptic mice investigations, and synthetic drug detection. Drawing from interdisciplinary experiences drives her current integrative research in deep learning proteomics, computer vision, and therapeutic XR platforms. Her future accomplishments aim to include advancements in advanced machine perception and general AI. Rachel notes, ‘working with others who care deeply for the evolution of computerized cognitive task and their role in making the world a safer place would be a defining historical moment in my career path’.

2019 Partner

The Department of Homeland Security – Advanced Research Projects Agency (DHS-ARPA) DA-E lab infrastructure consists of industry-standard servers and network gear, custom appliances built on the premise, and commercial and private cloud capabilities. 

DHS’ identified Priority Areas:

  • Human Trafficking – Examining social media to aid in the fight against human trafficking focusing on Non-Text Data, Automating Search and Scalability
  • Real-time Analytics for Multi-party, Metro-scale Networks (RAMMMNets) – Data associated with the Internet-of-Things presents challenges to the analytic environments that inform human decision making.
  • Other Topics – Faculty fellows may propose other research topics for consideration.

Update on South Hub Leadership

With the end of the first grant, Dr. Lea Shanley has stepped down from her role as co-Executive Director of the South Hub. We appreciate her leadership and commitment to the Hub, fostering the All Hub Cyberinfrastructure and Social Cybersecurity Working groups, catalyzing and supporting our Spoke research teams, building numerous collaborative partnerships to benefit this community, and co-authoring the proposal for the next phase of the South BD Hub.

She sends her thanks to the National Science Foundation CISE, the South Hub’s many collaborators and working group co-chairs, the hardworking Executive and Deputy Directors across all four Hubs, and especially to the South Hub team!

Dr. Shanley is now a Fellow at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and can be reached at lshanley@wisc.edu and https://www.linkedin.com/in/leashanley. We wish her much success in her future endeavors.  

Current South Hub Leadership 

Dr. Renata Rawlings-Goss will continue her leadership of the South Hub as Executive Director.

Shannon McKeen will join the South Hub leadership team as Deputy Director. Shannon brings 20+ years of experience in strategic planning and university and corporate relations to the Hub team. He holds a BS in computer science from Williams College and an MBA from The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.

Thank You to the South Hub Community for an Incredible Meeting.

For event recap please Click Here!

#SBDH19 All Hands Meeting

April 9 – 10, 2019

Questions? Meeting Registration? Poster Registration? Visit: https://southbigdatahub.org/calendar/2019allhands/

Contribute to the conversation with colleagues from industry, academia, nonprofits, and government during this two-day meeting to learn more about the accomplishments and future plans for the South Big Data Hub community. Your participation will strengthen our community and identify ways the SBDH can continue to support entities like you.

We invite you and/or your students to come and share your collaborative data science projects, discuss your progress, and highlight your impact

#SBDH19 All Hands Meeting April 9 – 10, 2019

Online Training with STIPEND SUPPORT Opportunity: ‘Big Data + High-Performance Computing + Atmospheric Sciences’

Call for Participants: NSF fundedMultidisciplinary Online Training Program with Stipend Support in Spring 2019on Big Data + High-Performance Computing + Atmospheric Sciences

   Funded as an NSF grant to train graduate students, post-docs, and junior faculty on “Big Data + High-Performance Computing + Atmospheric Sciences”, our training program is a new NSF-funded initiative in big data applied to atmospheric sciences and using high-performance computing as a vital tool. The training consists of instruction in the areas of data, computing, and atmospheric sciences supported by teaching assistants, followed by faculty-guided project research in a multidisciplinary team of participants from each area. Participants around the nation will be exposed to multidisciplinary research experiences and have the opportunity for significant career growth.  Continue reading

The DataUp Workshop – Instructor Training: Inspiring Professional Development & Capacity-Building

Faculty teams from the DataUp program during the Instructor Training Workshop on Nov 6 & 7, 2018.

Society is increasingly becoming more data-driven and data-literate. It is vital every institution has the capabilities and infrastructure to engage and develop learners prepared to interact and succeed in such a society. Numerous studies have identified the expanding data divide between institution types and the need to develop successful bridge initiatives. The South Hub begin to address this need by creating a 3-part program, DataUp. Through this program, the South Hub is directly impacting each participating institution’s data science education capacities.

The first component of the program is a hosted 2-day data or software workshop presented by the Carpentries. This provided an opportunity for each participating institution to engage in a workshop that specifically addressed their data knowledge gaps (for more information on these workshops, Click Here). Exposing students to these intensive workshops, students are able to gain hands-on training and exposure to principles and tools, such as shell and JupyterHub. Removing the associated ‘fear factors’ empowers learners to employ and address challenges with data. The second component of the DataUp program is a 2-day pedagogy intensive instructor training.

Continue reading

DataUp Workshop – Old Dominion University: A Melting Pot of Learners and Perspectives Creates an Impactful Workshop


Learners, instructors, and ‘workshop helpers’ from Old Dominion University pose after a collaborative and engaging 2-day workshop with shell, git, R, and JupyterHub.  

The DataUp program visited Old Dominion University on Oct 25-26 to introduce shell, git, R, and the JupyterHub. The workshop included students, faculty and staff eager to engage with the analytical tools. This workshop brought together a ‘melting pot’ of faculty, staff, and students from various corners of the university to engage in a 2-day workshop. The concepts were chosen by ODU as Unix Shell & R are utilized in their High-Performance Computing Center. Even though intensive, one student noted, ‘it’s like drinking from an 8-hour firehouse, but the information is great. I knew nothing before Day 1 and [now I feel] more confident [after the first day]’. The 2-person instructor team led the traditional Carpentries curriculum, but their instruction was magnified by multiple ‘workshop helpers’. In training workshops such as these, learners have various expertise levels and learning styles. Multiple ‘workshop helpers’ and instructors reinforced the concepts as the diverse point of views benefited the wide range of learning styles. This was especially beneficial to a professor who noted that she learned to code about 15 years ago and was very nervous to retool herself but, ‘this workshop helped [her] to remove her fear [of coding]’. Continue reading

The DataUp Workshop- Johnson C. Smith University: Harnessing Faculty Curiosity


Johnson C. Smith faculty and staff flanked by the Software Carpentries instructors.  Faculty and staff members explored shell, git, Matlab, and JupyterHub during the Oct 18-19, 2018 workshop.

Oftentimes, learning and education are discussed from the perspective of students. Unintentionally, excluding the fact that faculty have a natural interest in and curiosity for lifelong learning. Johnson C. Smith University’s DataUp institutional workshop attracted faculty and staff from diverse departments, including Psychology, Mathematics, and Library Services and IT. Over a two-day workshop, attendees discussed shell, git, and the interactive notebook JupyterHub. One learner noted that ‘it is [always] great to attend new workshops…it reminds you how students feel when learning new topics’. Many learners were new to the concepts but were eager to ask questions and find points of connectivity for their respective departments. By the middle of the first day, laughter and collaboration erupted throughout the session as individuals became more open to the concepts and asking questions.  Continue reading

DataUp Workshop – Texas A&M – Kingsville: Building Student Capacity

Learners, faculty members, and Carpentries instructors at the close of the Texas A&M University – Kingsville’s (TAMUK) Python/JupyterHub 2-day workshop.  The DataUp program will host a 2-day workshop at each of the 8 participating institutions.

On September 28 – 29, the DataUp program hosted a 2-day workshop at Texas A&M University – Kingsville, a historically Hispanic serving institution in Southern Texas. Arriving on the first day, a sense of eagerness buzzed throughout the classroom. Not only from the learners but also from the hosting faculty members. Faculty member, Dr. Min Zhoung, Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering, noted that oftentimes learners tend to stray away from analytical or data science opportunities because of a ‘math or computational’ fear. The Carpentries instructors provided engaging and supportive hands-on Python & SQL tutorials and exercises utilizing the shared notebook, JupyterHub. Although there were learners of varying stages of coding knowledge and expertise, numerous students stated their excitement and gratitude for the workshop. One young woman who works in the TAMUK’s President’s office noted that her “projects took considerable time to set up and run, but with the tips from the workshop she can cut her project time down significantly”. The DataUp program’s mission, in part, is to increase capacities for and usage of data science tools. Learners noted that similar workshops moved either too fast or too slow, but this workshop provided the opportunity for all learners to ask questions and learn subtleties to maximize Python and JupyterHub. This workshop was timely for a young man attending a job interview the following week providing him the opportunity to ‘brush up on his verbiage and techniques’. Continue reading

DataUp Workshop – University Puerto Rico – Rio Piedras: Students Buzz with Excitement for Data Science

The South Hub created the DataUp program to enable researchers and educators to teach data science students and prepare them for future data-intensive and data-enabled environments.  On August 18, 35 learners packed the room, at the University of Puerto Rico- Rio Piedras (UPRRP), to participate in a hands-on workshop focused on data management and analysis for genomics research.  Students learned best practices for the organization of bioinformatics projects and data, use of command line utilities, use of command line tools to analyze sequence quality and perform variant calling, and connecting to and using cloud computing.   This workshop, taught in English and Spanish, created such a buzz that a waitlist was created.  The waitlist included 13 individuals! Continue reading