UW eScience Institute

UW eScience Institute


Rapid advances in technology are transforming nearly every field from “data-poor” to “data-rich.” The ability to extract knowledge from this abundance of data is the cornerstone of 21st century discovery. At the University of Washington eScience Institute, our mission is to engage researchers across disciplines in developing and applying advanced computational methods and tools to real world problems in data-intensive discovery. Our research team consists of individuals with diverse backgrounds in the physical, life, and social sciences who have complementary expertise in advanced statistical and computational techniques such as data management, visualization, and machine learning. Our goal is to advance the development and application of these techniques and technologies across the University of Washington, as well as nationally and internationally across all fields of discovery.

Where is the eScience Institute?

The eScience Institute is located in the Washington Research Foundation Data Science Studio, on the 6th floor of the Physics/Astronomy Tower on the southwest corner of the University of Washington campus. The studio features a 360 degree view that includes some of Seattle’s iconic landmarks.

What is the role of the WRF Data Science Studio?

The WRF Data Science Studio is designed around the principle that innovative data science is advanced at universities through the creation of high quality physical spaces that successfully cultivate the “water cooler” effect (a place for serendipitous interactions), raise the level of prestige for data science and scientists, and are adaptable to a range of activities that can promote research collaborations and learning. The WRF Data Science Studio brings together eScience Data Scientists and researchers who reside in academic units spread across our large campus. With reconfigurable furniture and layouts, the space is designed for flexibility — providing our permanent data scientist staff space for individual quiet work and our broader community space for small group meetings, seminars, and hands-on training events.

Who works there?

We have dedicated desk space (and a dedicated meeting room) for our permanent staff of four full-time data scientists and four part-time research scientists. We have offices or desk space for our program managers, administrative support, and web and communications strategist, and a shared office used primarily by the Associate Director. A cohort of 13 postdoctoral data science fellows use “hot desk” space with varying regularity. As the WRF Data Science Studio is open to the public on weekdays from 9am-5pm, we also attract students and researchers from around campus to study, meet, and participate in our events.

What happens in the WRF Data Science Studio?

The WRF Data Science Studio is thriving! Data scientists, research scientists, postdoctoral fellows, and program staff base their activities here. Seminars and working groups regularly convene in the two large meeting rooms that can be reserved. Weekly campus-wide “data science office hours” are held in the Studio by the eScience Institute, UW Libraries, two different branches of UW-IT (the campus computing organization), the statistical consulting service of the Center For Statistics and the Social Sciences (CSSS), Amazon Web Services, and others. This summer, the Studio housed the 22 participants in our Data Science for Social Good research program for graduate students, undergraduate students, and socioeconomically disadvantaged high school students.

Who leads the eScience Institute?

The eScience Institute is led by Ed Lazowska (Founding Director) and Bill Howe (Associate Director), with guidance from a small Executive Committee and a larger Steering Committee comprised of distinguished researchers across a variety of fields.

How does the eScience Institute interact with other Data Science activities at UW?

The eScience Institute is a catalyst. Here are some examples:

With funding from the Washington Research Foundation (WRF) and the Provost’s office, the eScience Institute supports the joint appointment of transformational faculty who are innovators in developing and applying data science methodologies to advance their field of discovery. To date, seven faculty have been hired bridging eight departments on campus. The eScience Institute maintains close ties with the three other WRF-funded institutes on campus: the Institute for Neuroengineering, the Institute for Protein Design, and the Clean Energy Institute.

The eScience Institute was a founding partner in urban@uw, an initiative to use state-of-the-art research and practice from a broad range of fields, from engineering to the humanities, to dramatically improve the sustainability, resilience, social justice, equity, health, and well-being of cities with a focus on Seattle and an impact on the world.

The eScience Institute is deeply engaged in UW’s various data science educational activities. Our flagship achievement has been to create an “Advanced Data Science Option” in the PhD programs of six founding departments. Prof. Magdalena Balazinska is the director of this new program. Under her leadership, the eScience Education Working Group is now developing similar options as the undergraduate level and is working on expanding the PhD option to a larger set of participating departments.

Annual campus-wide “open call” poster sessions and a vibrant campus-wide Data Science Seminar with high-profile external speakers serve to expand the UW data science community.

As a Software Carpentry partner, the eScience Institute hosts quarterly workshops in the WRF Data Science Studio and has a seat on the Advisory Board.

The University IT organization, UW-IT, is a core partner of the eScience Institute, participating in joint hires, co-management of eScience-created software services (e.g., SQLShare), coordinated negotiations with external vendors on behalf of researchers on campus, shared strategy for research computing and software development, and co-organized events. As an example, UW-IT and the eScience Institute are jointly organizing Cloud Day @ UW, an event to share success stories around cloud computing on campus and ultimately increase uptake.

The eScience Institute has initiated multiple “Birds of a Feather” research collaborations on campus, the most prominent of which is the “Big Social Data” group. This group, with representation from six departments on campus, consists of faculty whose research crucially involves the use social media data. On behalf of this group, the eScience Institute negotiated complete access to historical Twitter data for research use, and eight research projects were accepted in the program; these projects are underway now.

How is the eScience Institute funded?

The University of Washington was fortunate to have a stable and well-integrated team in place at the start of the Data Science Environments project. Permanent core funding from the State of Washington enabled the launch of the eScience Institute in 2008 and the hiring of a small number of outstanding Research Scientists. In 2012, the team received a $2.8 million NSF “Data Science” Interdisciplinary Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) award. In 2013, the eScience Institute joined NYU and UC Berkeley in receiving a 5-year $12.5 million award from the Gordon and Betty Moore and Alfred P. Sloan Foundations. Shortly thereafter we successfully competed for a complementary award of $9.3 million from the Washington Research Foundation, which funded the remodeling of our Data Science Studio space, additional postdoctoral research fellowships, and faculty startup packages, Professorships, and Chairs. The Provost allocated $0.5M in permanent funds in the form of “half faculty positions” (matched by academic units) that have enabled the hiring of seven new faculty members who are leaders in both advancing and applying data science methodologies. This is “core support” - there are of course a vast number of “targeted” research grants in specific fields of data-intensive discovery.

More questions? Contact the eScience Institute staff at manager@escience.washington.edu.