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Spring 2015 Faculty/Staff Edition

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NUIT Events & Presentations

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Faculty/Staff Edition Spring 2015

Big Data Highlighted at Computational Research Day

The second annual Computational Research Day was held on April 14 in the Norris University Center. More than 300 faculty, postdocs, researchers, and students from both the Evanston and Chicago campuses came together for a full day of engaging talks from distinguished speakers, a poster session, data visualization challenge, and consultation opportunities with Northwestern computing and media support specialists.

Audience spectators at a Computational Research Day talk

This year, several areas of research were presented, including neural networks, history, materials science, genome analysis, social policy, and machine learning. Guest speakers also highlighted computational methods in the humanities and Big Data analytics. In addition, increased involvement from students and postdocs came in the form of research talks, chairing sessions, and judging posters and data visualizations.

Addressing the Data Explosion

In his opening remarks, Jay Walsh, vice president for Research in the Office for Research, highlighted how the University has been proactive in implementing the technological resources such as Quest, the University’s high-performance computing cluster, to facilitate amazing discoveries and generate funding.

“There is a huge data explosion occurring within data sciences across the University and an incredible amount of work in schools and research centers,” said Walsh. “Important events like this enable us to get researchers together to tackle big problems. This is an exciting time for Northwestern!”

Guest Keynotes

Geoffrey Rockwell gestures while speaking from a podium

Guest keynote Geoffrey Rockwell delivers “Big Data in
the Humanities: From Visualization to Ethics.”

The morning began with a keynote presentation from Geoffrey Rockwell, professor of Philosophy and Humanities Computing and director of the Kule Institute for Advanced Study, University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. The availability of large-scale digital text collections has challenged the way humanists interpret the human record. Rockwell captivated the audience by introducing how he uses new media-assisted research practices to interpret Big Data through visualization in his projects.

“I was excited when I learned that Dr. Rockwell would be speaking at Computational Research Day. He is a major player in the area of digital technology and a good ambassador,” said Mary Finn, associate dean for Undergraduate Academic Affairs, Office of Undergraduate Studies & Advising. “This fall I will be using digital tools to analyze and interpret texts in my Victorian literature class. Not only does this technology provide opportunities to improve my students’ understanding of primary texts, but I hope to increase their awareness of research opportunities in the humanities.”

In the afternoon, Eric Huls, senior vice president, Quantitative Research & Analytics, Allstate Insurance Company, explored the “Analytics Big Bang”—when predictive analytics reaches critical mass as Big Data and new technologies collide—analytic innovation, surges in demand for data scientists, and a large growth in analytic software development. He explained that data analytics reaches markets one may never imagine, including personalized coupon mailings, online dating, and insurance. His team of data scientists build and deploy advanced analytics capabilities, which help in the development of robust insurance rating plans for Allstate’s personal lines business.

Student Research Showcased

Huanxin Wu presents his data visualization work

Huanxin Wu, graduate student, Department of Physics
& Astronomy, presents his finished work, “Visualizing
dielectric effects in dynamic colloidal systems.”

New this year was the Data Visualization Challenge, sponsored by NVIDIA where students collaborated to compete by showing off their research data or ideas using a visual representation. The challenge comprised two categories: finished works and proposed works. Submissions were judged on their effectiveness, artistic and technical merit, and novelty.

Jonathan Ford, MEAS ’15 was awarded a NVIDIA GPU card as first prize for his finished work, MixViz, a Linux-based audio production tool that analyzes audio tracks in search of conflicting or overlapping frequency bands and then presents this information visually as the audio files are played back. These conflicts, along with the spectral strength and spatial location of audio tracks, are mapped to a visualization to assist users as they make adjustments to improve the overall composition. 

Aaron Geller, postdoctoral fellow, CIERA and the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Weinberg School of Arts and Sciences, won first prize for his proposed visualization of stellar evolution. Geller is developing lesson plans for high school and undergraduate introductory courses in astronomy as part of his research on stars and their evolution through a grant funded by the National Science Foundation. He hopes by using his interactive visualization students will be encouraged to independently explore how stars evolve and change over time.

Attendees discussing a research poster

Attendees interact with poster competition candidates.

“Having access to the University’s visualization services right on campus is a great resource for my work,” said Geller. “The visualization team has introduced me to different software and languages that can help enhance this and future projects.”

Students also showcased their research at the Interdisciplinary Poster Competition sponsored by Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA) and the Center for Life Processes Institute. Nineteen undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdocs presented research topics ranging from “How does community income affect the transition to adulthood?” to “Fast Computation of Fully Resolved Neuromechanically Controlled Locomotion.”

Logan Ward stands with his winning poster

Logan Ward, graduate student, Materials Science and
Engineering, Electrical Engineering.

The first prize in the Poster Competition was awarded to Logan Ward, a graduate student in Materials Science and Engineering, for his entry titled, Machine Learning for Materials Discovery. Ward and his team are looking for ways how to quickly design new and improved materials such as lighter alloys used for the manufacturing of cars. To do this, they create large databases of known materials that can be quickly queried to find existing materials suitable for new applications and used to create data mining models for further analysis and discovery.

This June, Ward will use the awarded $1,500 travel grant to attend the Computational Materials Chemistry workshop at the Telluride Science Research Center, Telluride, Colorado.

More About Computational Research Day

Northwestern Computational Research Day 2015 was hosted by NUIT and sponsored in conjunction with the McCormick School of Engineering, Kellogg School of Management, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Feinberg School of Medicine, CIERA, Chemistry of Life Processes Institute, Northwestern University Library, and the Office for Research. Corporate sponsors were Lenovo, Intel, and NVIDIA.

Visit the NUIT website to see the full list of presentation abstracts, poster competition winners, and data visualization challenge winners.

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