Illinois to lead NSF Midwest Big Data Hub


In the future, big data could help unlock the mysteries of fields ranging from the natural sciences to medicine, and Illinois has a new opportunity to take a leading role.

TRANSIMS (TRansportation ANalysis and SIMulation System) traffic simulation at Illinois
TRANSIMS (TRansportation ANalysis and SIMulation System) traffic simulation at Illinois
To accelerate advancements in the rapidly emerging field of big data analysis, the National Science Foundation has given $5 million to establish four regional Big Data Hubs. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will lead the Midwest Big Data Hub, a consortium of public and private partners. Catalyzed by an initial award from the National Science Foundation called SEEDCorn, which stands for “Sustainable Enabling Environment for Data Collaboration,” its goal is to provide a “big data brain trust” that will allow researchers to better collect, mine, and analyze data, leading to greater efficiency and, ultimately, a higher quality of life.

“The BD Hubs program represents a unique approach to improving the impact of data science by establishing partnerships among likeminded stakeholders,” said Jim Kurose, head of NSF’s Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering. “In doing so, it enables teams of data science researchers to come together with domain experts, with cities and municipalities, and with anchor institutions to establish and grow collaborations that will accelerate progress in a wide range of science and education domains with the potential for great societal benefit.”

Joining Illinois in the Midwest Big Data Hub are the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Iowa State University, Indiana University, the University of North Dakota and dozens of other partners from academia, industry, government, and non-governmental organizations. The Midwest BD Hub will focus its efforts on three sectors:

1)    Society (smart cities and communities; network science; business analytics)

2)    Natural & Built World (water, food, and energy; digital agriculture; transportation; and advanced manufacturing)

3)    Healthcare and Biomedical Research

Those themes are a natural fit for the Midwest, which is sitting on the nation’s largest freshwater reservoir and some of the country’s most fertile soil. It’s also home to top healthcare systems and pharmaceutical companies, such as the Mayo Clinic and Eli Lilly, both of which are partners in the Hub. In addition, the City of Chicago, another partner, is exploring many smart city concepts, such as smart traffic and transportation systems.

“Big data could help us determine, for example, how much water to use for raising food, how much for drinking,  and how much to leave untouched,’ said Edward Seidel, principal investigator of the Midwest BD Hub and director of Illinois’ National Center for Supercomputing Applications. “It could help us make decisions on how to allocate resources based on current soil, crop, and climate decisions – ultimately, how to make the smartest decisions possible for the benefit of the people who live here.”

Photo credit: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Theoretical and Computational Biophysics Group
Photo credit: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Theoretical and Computational Biophysics Group
The Hub has dozens of corporate partners, ranging from Domino’s Pizza to Proctor & Gamble. Its leadership will work to develop policies and standards on how to share and store data in a way that does not compromise privacy or intellectual property rights. It also has a partnership with the National Data Service to support pilot projects to develop services for data communities to share, link, discover and compute on data collections.

“We see it as our mission to organize communities to support science activities around these thrusts,” Seidel said. “We’re really looking at how to make this model sustainable, as the need for big data services will only grow in the future.”

More detail on the hub can be found at The other three regional Hubs will be coordinated by data scientists at Columbia University (Northeast Hub); Georgia Tech and the University of North Carolina (South Hub); and the University of California, San Diego, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Washington (West Hub).

For media requests, please contact Kim Gudeman: 213-333-9735 or kgudemanatillinois [dot] edu.