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Rachel Ward Receives NSF TRIPODS Phase 2 Award for Data Science Research

Rachel Ward Receives NSF TRIPODS Phase 2 Award for Data Science Research

Rachel Ward, professor of mathematics at The University of Texas at Austin, has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Transdisciplinary Research in Principles of Data Science, or TRIPODS, Phase II award. The award will help establish The Institute for Emerging CORE Methods in Data Science (EnCORE), led by the University of California San Diego in collaboration with the University of California, Los Angeles; University of Pennsylvania; and UT Austin.

Data science is becoming a key driver of innovation across virtually all sectors of society. It impacts how industry, government and academia operate day to day. But with ever-growing data sets, the complexities of accurately compiling and interpreting all this information is a challenge that requires the expertise of computer scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and statisticians.

The NSF recently announced two new TRIPODS awards that bring together scientists and engineers from different research communities to further the theoretical foundations of data science through integrated research and training activities.

Rachel Ward is a core faculty member at the Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences and a member of the Institute for the Foundations of Machine Learning at UT Austin. Her research lies broadly in the mathematics of data, with applications in signal and image processing, dynamical systems, and biology. Her work often synthesizes tools from optimization, numerical linear algebra, dynamical systems, scientific computing, sparse approximation, random matrix theory and machine learning.

"I'm honored to even be considered for this award," Ward said. "The NSF are committed to leading the nation in foundational data science research, and support for this kind of collaborative, interdisciplinary approach is a big step towards making that happen."

TRIPODS is tied to NSF's Harnessing the Data Revolution Big Idea, which aims to accelerate discovery and innovation in data science algorithms, data infrastructure and education and workforce development.

The aim is to design algorithms for analyzing large, complex, noisy and changing data sets that include historical biases and elements influenced by self-interested and possibly malicious parties; and the need for fair, ethical and understandable results.

In 2019, UT Austin received a smaller, three-year Phase I TRIPODS award as part of a multi-step nationwide process to build larger institutes for machine learning and AI, as part of Harnessing the Data Revolution.

Ward is the principal investigator for UT Austin's portion of EnCORE, with co-principal investigators Purna Sarkar, professor in the Department of Statistics and Data Sciences and Oden Institute affiliated faculty, Shuchi Chawla, professor in the Department of Computer Science and Sujay Sanghav, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UT's Cockrell School of Engineering. This current project establishes a new institute on the Foundations of Data Science at UT Austin and will be a collaboration between eight investigators in the Departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Computer Science, Mathematics and Statistics and Data Sciences.

"The NSF TRIPODS Institutes will bring advances in data science theory that improve health care, manufacturing, and many other applications and industries that use data for decision-making," said NSF Division Director for Electrical, Communications and Cyber Systems Shekhar Bhansali.

TRIPODS awards aim to achieve these goals and other long-term major impacts in areas ranging from basic science to commerce and law by bringing together electrical engineering, mathematics, statistics, and theoretical computer science communities in synergistic and mutually beneficial ways to develop a unified foundation for data science.

NSF is supporting two new teams, including EnCORE, over five years focused on these topics. This brings the total number of TRIPODS Phase II Institutes to four. Previous TRIPODS Institutes were announced in 2020.

UT Austin's award totals $2.57 million. Separate awards to UC San Diego, UCLA and University of Pennsylvania bring the total for the new EnCORE institute to $10 million.

Adapted from an Oden Institute press release by John Holden

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Thursday, 01 December 2022

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