NSF grants $10M for collaborative data science institute in Chicago

A multidisciplinary team representing five Chicago-area university research centers will unite as part of a new data science institute backed by a five-year, $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The grant merges two existing collaborative institutes, the Foundations of Data Science and the Institute for Data, Econometrics, Algorithms and Learning, to form a new research group that uses the IDEAL name. It is being funded through phase two of the NSF Harnessing the Data Revolution initiative and follows a competitive proposal process involving institutes funded during phase one.

Lev Reyzin, UIC professor of mathematics, statistics and computer science.
Lev Reyzin, UIC professor of mathematics, statistics and computer science.

Leading the effort is the University of Illinois Chicago in partnership with the Illinois Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, Toyota Technological Institute at Chicago and the University of Chicago. The institute will have 55 faculty members from the five institutions, in addition to nine researchers from Google.

IDEAL will support work focused on three themes: foundations of machine learning, high-dimensional data analysis and inference, and data science and society. Computer science, electrical engineering, probability and statistics are among the core disciplines represented in the project.

“A unique aspect of our institute is that we will bring in other areas not traditionally represented in data science, including mathematical logic, economics and law,” said Lev Reyzin, a principal investigator and UIC professor of mathematics, statistics and computer science. “One of the goals of this institute is to create a cohesive data science community within the Chicago area.”

The research programs under IDEAL will address issues from deep learning and optimization and networks and statistical inference to networks and statistical inference and privacy and fairness.

IDEAL also aims to broaden participation in data science, help develop future workforce members and connect with the local community through lectures at high schools, exhibits at the Museum of Science and Industry and teacher workshops.

UIC students will benefit from the project through access to research assistantships, postdoctoral fellowships, cross-institutional courses, workshops and seminars.

“They will get to interact with institute visitors. We will also develop new courses that they can take at UIC,” Reyzin said.

The institute’s inaugural director will be Avrim Blum from ToyotaTechnological Institute, followed by Aravindan Vijayaraghavan of Northwestern, and then Reyzin of UIC.

Co-principal investigators from UIC include Natasha Devroye, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; Will Perkins, assistant professor of mathematics, statistics and computer science; Yichao Wu, the TransUnion Professor based in the department of mathematics, statistics and computer science; and Elena Zheleva, UIC assistant professor of computer science.

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