31
May
2013

FROM CITY HALL TO HYDE PARK

In its early days, the Urban Center for Computation and Data formed a valuable partnership with the data team installed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel within Chicago's city government. Leading the city's efforts to free up data internally and externally was Chief Data and Information Officer Brett Goldstein, an alumnus of the UChicago computer science program and the restaurant reservation startup company OpenTable. Goldstein's team and UrbanCCD worked together on the SmartData platform proposal that was chosen for a $1 million grant in the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge earlier this year, and Goldstein was the keynote speaker at the first workshop of the Urban Sciences Research Coordination Workshop in February.

So we are very excited about the news that Goldstein will soon be joining the University of Chicago as the inaugural Fellow in Urban Science at the Harris School of Public Policy. Goldstein will continue to work with UrbanCCD researchers on the SmartData platform and other projects, while also helping with the launch of a masters degree in computation and public policy and the Urban Technology Innovators' Conference, a new initiative organized by Chicago Harris and the City of Chicago that seeks to create a peer-learning network for municipal technology innovators.

24
May
2013

CERN is known as the current world epicenter of particle physics, the home of the Large Hadron Collider and thousands of scientists expanding our knowledge of the universe’s most basic ingredients. For one day earlier this month, the Geneva, Switzerland laboratory was also a meeting place for scientists, philosophers, musicians, animators and even Will.I.Am to share their grand ideas for the first ever TEDxCERN event.

23
May
2013

The exascale — one million trillion calculations per second — is the next landmark in the perpetual race for computing power. Although this speed is 500 times faster than the world’s current leading supercomputers and many technical challenges remain, experts predict that the exascale will likely be reached by 2020. But while the United States is used to being the frontrunner in high-performance computing achievement, this leg of the race will feature intense competition from Japan, China and Europe.

21
May
2013

While you're planning for a summer vacation on the beach, we're planning to host three dozen aspiring data scientists for The Eric and Wendy Schmidt Data Science for Social Good Fellowship. In just a couple weeks, 550 undergraduate and graduate students from around the world applied for the program, as visualized above. While the lucky 6.5% don't arrive until early next month, the fellowship's website launched today with portraits and Twitter/GitHub links for all the fellows, mentors and staff involved in this exciting effort.

20
May
2013

Many of us carry a computer in our pocket that's as powerful as the supercomputers of the late 1980's. Many of us also mostly use that revolutionary device to slingshot cartoon birds at evil pigs. Smartphones have undoubtedly improved and changed our lives in many different ways, yet the potential of these mobile computers to benefit science and humanity has often been overshadowed by their talent for eating up free time with a silly game. But as CI fellow T. Andrew Binkowski said in his (flood-delayed) talk for Faculty Technology Day on May 8th, there are few reasons why the power of smartphone apps can't also be harnessed for teaching and research in an academic context.

In general, the world of smartphone apps is a cruel and competitive ecosystem. Almost 1 million apps are available in Apple's App Store, which has seen some 50 billion downloads since its launch in 2008. Due to this scale, Binkowski said he often warns people that no matter how good their app idea is, it's very likely that somebody else has already created and released something similar. Often, it's the design, marketing and support of the app that separates it from a crowd of lookalike releases -- Angry Birds wasn't even the first game where a player flings animals at buildings, and yet it is now the most successful franchise in iOS history.

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17
May
2013

For the last few decades, parallelism has been the secret weapon of computing. Based on the theory that large problems could be solved faster if they are chopped up into smaller problems performed simultaneously, parallel computing has driven supercomputers to their current petascale power. Recently, the concept has spread to consumer computers as well, as clock speed limitations of single processors led manufacturers to switch to multi-core chips combining 2, 4 or 8 CPUs. But in the early 1980's, when Argonne National Laboratory created its Argonne Leadership Research Facility, the path of parallelism was not so clear.

The origin, subsequent impact and future role of this technology were the topics of discussion at the Thirty Years of Parallel Computing at Argonne symposium, held over two days earlier this week. Luminaries of the computer industry and research community -- many of them Argonne alumni or collaborators -- met on the Argonne campus to share stories of the laboratory's instrumental role in nurturing parallel computers and the software they use, and how the approach helped to create the computational science of today and tomorrow.

15
May
2013

Watch or listen to the news in any city and you'll be fed a stream of numbers: traffic times, weather forecasts, sports scores and financial reports. All this data gives a quick, surface snapshot of the city on any given day -- what happened last night, what's happening right now, what will happen over the next 24 hours. But a city's health is harder to put a figure on, either because of the complexity of data, the scarcity of data or the hiding of data behind locked doors. At the University of Chicago last week, a panel of researchers in medicine and the social sciences discussed how the health numbers of Chicago and other cities can be both collected and applied, enabling research on unprecedented scales and empowering citizens to improve their own wellbeing.

The panel, "Methods, Data, Infrastructure for the Study of Health in Cities," was part of the broader Health in Cities event, one of four Urban Forums held by the University of Chicago Urban Network encompassing the impressive breadth of city research on campus. Among the participants were several scientists who currently collaborating with CI researchers on how to use computation to better collect, analyze and share data. Kate Cagney, an associate professor of sociology and health studies, is working with the Urban Center for Computation and Data on their efforts to help plan and study the massive new Lakeside development taking shape on Chicago's South Side. Her team will conduct interviews of residents in the neighborhoods surrounding Lakeside both before and after construction to assess how many aspects of their lives -- including health -- are affected by this enormous addition to the city's landscape.

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06
May
2013

WE CAME, WE SAW, WE CERNED

We were thrilled to spend Friday morning with the folks at TEDxCERN via webcast, enjoying fascinating talks by CI director Ian Foster and several other amazing scientists and educators. Foster's talk focused on "The Discovery Cloud," the idea that many complex and time-consuming research tasks can be moved to cloud-based tools, freeing up scientists to accelerate the pace of discovery. We'll post the video when it's up, but for now, enjoy this great animation produced for the conference by TED-Ed explaining grid computing, cloud computing and big data.

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02
May
2013

Lost in the buzz surrounding "Big Data" is the nuance that the phrase can mean very different things according to its context. In the sciences, "Big Data" is a matter of increasing scale for researchers working with massive datasets in physics, astronomy and genomics. In business, "Big Data" offers new ways of marketing to customers or engineering better products and projects. But for a broad segment of the population, "Big Data" has yet to directly impact their daily lives beyond targeted ads on the internet and personalized recommendations for books, music and movies.

In the Computation Institute's April 25th panel for the international Big Data Week event, three panelists highlighted the potential of this fashionable phrase to make the world a better place. Where data analytics and high-performance computing have long been essential tools in the physical sciences -- and more recently in biology and medicine -- the crossover of these methods into the social sciences is just starting. Now, as government data becomes more accessible, either publicly or for research purposes, new opportunities to improve the world around us arise, from building more sustainable and healthier cities to protecting society's most vulnerable citizens from harm.