U-M launching $100 million Data Science Initiative


The University of Michigan plans to invest $100 million over the next five years in a new Data Science Initiative that will enhance opportunities for student and faculty researchers across the university to tap into the enormous potential of big data.

Progress in a wide spectrum of fields ranging from medicine to transportation relies critically on the ability to gather, store, search and analyze “big data” — collections of information so vast and complex that they challenge traditional approaches to data processing and analysis.

“Big data can provide dramatic insights into the nature of disease, climate change, social behavior, business and economics, engineering, and the basic biological and physical sciences,” said President Mark Schlissel.

“With our widely recognized strengths across all of these areas, and our longstanding culture of collaboration across disciplines, U-M is in a unique position to leverage this investment in data science for the good of society.”

Under the auspices of the DSI, U-M plans to:

• Hire 35 new faculty during the next four years and engage existing faculty across campus.

• Support interdisciplinary data-related research initiatives and foster new methodological approaches to big data.

• Provide new educational opportunities for students pursuing careers in data science.

• Expand U-M’s research computing capacity.

• Strengthen data management, storage, analytics and training resources.

“Data science has become a fourth approach to scientific discovery, in addition to experimentation, modeling and computation,” said Provost Martha Pollack.

“To spur innovation while providing focus, the DSI will launch challenge initiatives in four critical interdisciplinary areas that build on our existing strengths in transportation research, health sciences, learning analytics and social science research.”

In one project at U-M’s Mobility Transformation Center, for example, researchers are collecting a continuous stream of data at a rate of 10 times per second from each of nearly 3,000 private cars, trucks and buses on the streets of Ann Arbor in order to test the operation of connected vehicles. The DSI will help collect, store and analyze the huge amount of data being generated as researchers affiliated with the U-M Mobility Transportation Center expand the number of vehicles to more than 20,000 across Southeast Michigan.

In medicine and public health, U-M researchers seek to use big data to boost the effectiveness of data-driven biomedical and health research to accelerate the translation from basic research to patient care. By sifting through the massive amount of data generated from DNA sequencing, medical histories and other sources, for example, they are exploring ways to more precisely diagnose or assess an individual’s risk for certain types of cancer, and to formulate the most effective personalized therapies.

Another novel area of research at U-M is drawing on big data to examine the nature of teaching and learning with the aim of providing instruction tailored to the specific needs of individual students. This will involve, for example, gathering and analyzing a rich variety of data from thousands of student activities and experiences to uncover the connections between student behavior and success for different kinds of students.

And in social science, U-M researchers are studying the potential of analyzing massive amounts of data generated by social media to replace or complement conventional surveying techniques as a way to gain insight into a broad range of socioeconomic questions.

Industry engagement also is central to the initiative, with a particular focus on the automotive, advanced manufacturing, chemical, finance, health care and pharmaceutical sectors.

Reflecting the broad promise of big data, all academic units on campus are supporting the initiative. As part of the DSI, U-M will establish the Michigan Institute for Data Science to lead research and educational activities in big data.

“Big data is revolutionizing research in an extraordinary range of disciplines,” said S. Jack Hu, interim vice president for research. “With this initiative, our goal is to spark innovation in research across campus while inspiring further advances in the techniques of data science itself.”

An inaugural symposium to mark the launch of the Data Science Initiative is scheduled for Oct. 6 in the Rackham Building. The event will be open to the university community and the public.



  1. Denise Tate
    on September 8, 2015 at 9:08 am

    I applaud the university’s initiative on data science and its implication for research collaborations in the near future. The need to include the international community in this initiative is critical to keep up with the fast pace of scientific development around the world.

  2. Richard Lee
    on September 8, 2015 at 3:37 pm

    It saddens me to see Michigan squander its resources on the pursuit of Data Science as a vocation. Not only is it not a true science, but it is misleading students to believe that these narrowly defined skills are really in demand. The University should make Data & Analytics core to every curriculum in all of its Schools and to nurture all graduates to have sufficient Skills & Acumen to successfully compete in the job markets of the future. Data & Analytics are horizontal competencies, not vertical areas of specialization.

  3. Kas Say
    on September 8, 2015 at 9:22 pm

    Data Scietists certainly need domain expertise. However the alternative is having individuals with these skills working in collaboration with domain experts ( who most probably won’t be as knowledgeable in statistical modelling , computer science )

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