NUS launches new Institute of Data Science

27 May 2016 | Education
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New S$12m research centre to develop integrated data science solutions and to nurture data scientists for Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative; Microsoft Singapore as first industry partner

The National University of Singapore (NUS) today launched the Institute of Data Science (IDS), a new research institute that will be the focal point for all data science research and translation, education and related activities at NUS. This new research institute is a key pillar of the NUS’ Smart Nation Cluster, which aims to contribute to Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative by developing deep and strategic capabilities in data science, analytics and optimisation, and cybersecurity. IDS will collaborate with local and international academic and industry partners, with Microsoft Singapore as its first industry partner.

NUS President Professor Tan Chorh Chuan said, “The Big Data revolution is taking place at an extremely rapid pace and the ability to understand and exploit data will certainly shape how we live, work and play in the future. Many businesses and institutions are already using data analytics to enhance productivity, reduce cost and improve product and service quality.”

He elaborated, “NUS has extensive strengths in data analytics, operations research and cybersecurity. The new NUS Institute of Data Science will coordinate these interdisciplinary efforts and create a critical mass of researchers focused on this important area of research. It will also accelerate the translation of fundamental research into impactful solutions in areas such as healthcare and education that will benefit individuals, businesses and institutions in Singapore and beyond.”

“To achieve these goals, IDS will foster strong collaborations between researchers from different disciplines, as well as with industry and policy makers. We are very excited to work with Microsoft Singapore, a world-leading big data solutions provider, as the first industry partner of IDS. Researchers from IDS and Microsoft will cooperate on a series of industry-relevant data science research and education projects,” Prof Tan added.

Interdisciplinary data science hub at NUS

Established with an initial investment of S$12 million over five years, IDS will leverage and mobilise NUS’ existing strengths in diverse disciplines to create integrated capabilities in data science research so as to push the boundaries of current knowledge. The Institute will also work closely with academic and industry partners as well as government agencies to develop integrated and innovative solutions that are relevant and impactful to address challenging real-world problems that are unique to Singapore and Asia.

At the start-up phase, more than 20 NUS faculty members from various disciplines will be involved in IDS’ research projects. At steady state, IDS is expected to have about 100 researchers and staff working on a broad spectrum of data science research projects.

One of IDS’ core missions is to educate the next generation of data scientists, so as to meet the current shortage of data scientists who have a good grasp of knowledge in mathematics, statistics, computing and the application domains. IDS will provide a total of 50 scholarships over five years to train PhD students in the important areas of data science and data analytics. Undergraduate students will also have opportunities to be exposed to translational research as part of their academic projects.

Harnessing big data to inform decision and policy-making

The newly established IDS is in the process of framing its research agenda. For a start, IDS is exploring two potential research thrusts.

The first involves the development of novel enabling technologies to identify, model and predict the flow of talents across geographical regions over time. Tools could be developed to automatically create and validate talent profiles from multiple unstructured data sources, and analyse these profiles for talent flows that occur across geographical regions over time. Findings may provide valuable information about factors contributing to the flow of talents, which may have implications on talent-related policies of businesses and government agencies.

The second could focus on empowering internet users to search with confidence. This project could involve the development of a framework, in the context of diabetes for instance, that could empower internet users to make more informed decisions when they use the internet as a source of information. The project may involve an analysis of a large collection of search queries to understand the needs of information seekers and offer insights into how behaviours are shaped through information obtained online. This could lead to predictions of trends on usage of certain drugs and intervention measures.

NUS researchers from various disciplines – from computer science, mathematics and medicine to public health, public policy, statistics and social sciences – could contribute their expertise to these projects.