On October 4, the Venture Development Center hosted 50 data scientists for a Big Data Workshop at UMass Boston. Attendees came from various UMass campuses, as well as several Boston-area technology firms. The workshop was sponsored by the UMass President’s Science and Technology Fund.
Big data has become a watchword in technology and computer science over the last few years. Faster computing speeds and high-capacity data storage allow researchers in medicine, physics, business, and other data-driven fields to analyze bigger samples than ever before, and share that information with each other.
“The next question,” says VDC Entrepreneur-in-Residence David McFarlane, “is what are we going to do with all that data?”
Keynote speaker Toby Bloom of the New York Genome Center discussed the intersection of big data and genetic research. According to Bloom, the genetic information from a single tumor can comprise around 300 gigabytes of data (the equivalent of 12 Blu-ray movies). In order to determine how that tumor is linked to genetic code, cancer researchers take samples of tumors from tens of thousands of patients. Their data, in other words, are getting big.
Bloom shared the computer science challenges that his organization faces through several examples, including the Auto-Immunity Project, a program that seeks biomarkers for flares of Crohn’s disease, lupus, and other autoimmune disorders. The Genome Center must balance researchers’ desire for more and more complex data with storage, distribution, and privacy issues.
Throughout the day, workshop attendees were invited to network and share ideas. In his opening remarks, workshop organizer and UMass Amherst professor Prashant Shenoy told the crowd that he was pleased to see so many people in attendance, and thanked UMass Boston’s VDC and its support staff, “without whom the workshop would not have been possible.”