Institute for Foundations of Data Science debuts with interdisciplinary vision

Yale’s new Institute for Foundations of Data Science will help faculty across dozens of disciplines infuse their research with next-generation insights.
Daniel Spielman

Daniel Spielman, Sterling Professor of Computer Science, Statistics and Data Science, and Mathematics, is the inaugural James A. Attwood Director of the new institute. (Photos by Dariusz Terepka)

The future of data science at Yale will reside on one of the top floors of a re-imagined Kline Tower on Science Hill, starting in 2023 — but the university, its researchers, and the new Institute for Foundations of Data Science (FDS) aren’t waiting for next year.

Doctors, economists, seismologists, psychologists, engineers, computer scientists — faculty from dozens of disciplines — are already using powerful data science tools to infuse their research with next-generation insights. They’re making discoveries in cyber security, urbanization, autism, cardiology, and artificial intelligence.

Now they will be aided by Yale’s new Institute for Foundations of Data Science, also known as the Kline Tower Institute. Yale launched the new initiative on Oct. 14 with presentations from 20 faculty members currently taking research in bold new directions thanks to innovative mathematical, statistical, and algorithmic methods of working with data.

By integrating faculty from across campus the university will help scholars apply new methods of data science to their work and inspire advances in foundational research in a range of disciplines.

Yale President Peter Salovey
Yale President Peter Salovey said data-driven approaches to research can transcend a single discipline or department.

I can’t think of anything more important than using data-driven approaches to finding solutions,” said Yale President Peter Salovey, citing climate change, political polarization, health care, and medical discoveries as vital areas for data-driven research that “transcend” a single department or discipline.

This is a university-wide priority,” Salovey added. “It’s an exciting moment, and there’s a lot more to come.”

In recent years, the university has made major investments in faculty and infrastructure to elevate Yale’s data science capabilities. In 2018, the University Science Strategy Committee identified data science as a leading priority; since then, Yale has hired 25 new ladder faculty members in the Departments of Computer Science, and Statistics and Data Science.

Priya Panda
Priya Panda, assistant professor of electrical engineering and director of the Intelligent Computing Lab at Yale, gave a presentation about her research.

This is a day we’ve been working toward for a long time,” said Provost Scott Strobel, who led the University Science Strategy Committee, during the recent launch event. He noted that faculty members have told him that “the future of science is data science.”

FDS’s eventual home will be on an upper floor of Kline Tower, which is being renovated to house the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ departments of Statistics and Data Science, Mathematics, and Astronomy. The renovation will be completed in 2023.

The institute combines the foundations of data science methodology with applications that can benefit society, said Daniel Spielman, the inaugural James A. Attwood Director of FDS, and a Sterling Professor of Computer Science, Statistics and Data Science, and Mathematics.

FDS does this by integrating faculty from departments and schools across the university.

Almost every major advance in data science started with a scholar in another field who had a problem they could not solve,” said Spielman, who recently won the Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics for his work in theoretical computer science and mathematics.

Amin Karbasi
Amin Karbasi, associate professor of electrical engineering, computer science, and statistics and data science, took part in a “Faculty Research Blitz” at the launch event.

Some of the faculty members who outlined their research during the Oct. 14 launch event included:

  • Karen Seto, the Frederick C. Hixon Professor of Geography and Urbanization Science at the School of the Environment, who applies machine learning techniques to a wealth of satellite imaging data, documenting and evaluating changes to the landscape due to urbanization.
  • Rohan Khera, an assistant professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine and assistant professor of biostatistics at Yale School of Public Health, who uses novel methods to detect heart disease signatures from data in wearable technology.
  • James Duncan, the Ebenezer K. Hunt Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Radiology, and Biomedical Imaging at the School of Engineering & Applied Science (SEAS), who is developing predictive models to gauge the effectiveness of autism therapy, based on data science techniques applied to brain imaging.
  • Jeffrey Park, professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), who uses data science methods to make a wealth of interactive seismic wave information available to researchers in real time.
  • Amin Karbasi, associate professor of electrical engineering, computer science, and statistics and data science at SEAS, who is exploring innovative ways to design the human labeling component of raw data that is used in artificial intelligence systems.
  • Bryan Kelly, a professor of finance at the School of Management, who uses machine learning methods to make more effective predictions about key components in asset valuation.
  • Forrest Crawford, associate professor of biostatistics, statistics and data science, ecology and evolutionary biology, and management, who uses advanced mathematics models to reveal hidden structures in epidemiology, such as mapping and tracking social distancing behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Elisa Celis, an assistant professor of statistics and data science at FAS, who analyzes the objectivity of data used in a variety of algorithms affecting everything from politics and policing to consumer behavior.

Together, we have an opportunity to make an incredible impact,” Celis said.

FDS is planning additional events around campus in the coming months to highlight ongoing data science-related research. The institute is also seeking applicants for multi-year postdoctoral positions for independent scholars working on the foundations of data science.

This is just a taste of what’s happening,” Spielman said. “We could easily hear from 80 faculty members — but we’d be here all day. That’s why we’re starting an institute.”

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Fred Mamoun: fred.mamoun@yale.edu, 203-436-2643