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UMass Amherst Launches Center for Data Science in Major Expansion of Big Data Research, Education and Collaboration with Industry

AMHERST, MA — The University of Massachusetts Amherst has launched a new Center for Data Science that will coordinate and significantly expand its capacity for research, education and industry collaboration in support of the exploding demand for acquisition and analysis of “big data.”

The launch was announced at a symposium that featured an array of business leaders from organizations including Google, Amazon, Yahoo, Thomson Reuters, MassMutual, Pratt and Whitney and the New England Venture Capital Association. James Kurose, head of computer science research for the National Science Foundation, delivered the keynote address. Steve Strassmann, chief technology officer for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and Jennifer Chayes, managing director of Microsoft Research New England, were among the featured panelists. A detailed schedule of the symposium can viewed at

UMass Amherst, recognized as an international leader in computing, projects an investment that leverages 80 new faculty working in data-science related areas. This includes 40 new faculty hired over the past five years and the projected hiring of 40 additional faculty in such areas over the next decade. The university is pursuing investments from industrial partners and government sources to invest over $100 million, including space expansion, to help meet its goals. The new center will help coordinate creation of a new master’s degree concentration in data science as well as new undergraduate degree tracks in computer science and informatics.

UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy says, “Our faculty are inspired by the complexities of real-world problems in key industries of the Commonwealth and the nation at large. The dramatic increase in private and public-sector demand for data science research and expertise has been an important driver of our investment in this center. We also know that demand for our data science graduates has been insatiable, and a vital part of the center will be expanding educational opportunities for talented data scientists.”
Katherine Newman, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, adds, “It is not hyperbole to claim that we have entered the ‘Age of Data,’ in which the most important advances in the international economy will be driven by the technical and analytical possibilities inherent in this new field. We are building on our strong international reputation in machine learning and other areas of data science, and investing heavily.”

The Center for Data Science is directed by Professor Andrew McCallum, an international leader in the fields of machine learning, information extraction and social network analysis. He is the current president of the International Machine Learning Society and among the most highly cited researchers internationally in the field of natural language processing. In the early 2000’s he was vice president of research and development at WhizBang Labs, a 170-person start-up company, and he has collaborated with more than 20 companies since joining the UMass Amherst faculty in 2003.

“I am tremendously excited to help UMass grow in this important field that combines such interesting intellectual research and broad impact,” says McCallum. “I am looking forward to stimulating collaborations spanning the many data science-related fields across the Five Colleges and with industry as we shape our research and education programs.” The new education programs will include opportunities for mentorships and internships with industrial partners.

Data science is an important driver of economic development in Massachusetts. According to the 2014 Massachusetts Big Data Report, published by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, nearly 500 companies in Massachusetts are working in data science. Venture capital investors have pumped more than $2.5 billion into Massachusetts-based data science companies fueling at least 80 start-ups in the last four years. Massachusetts colleges and universities produce nearly 6,000 data science graduates annually, but the demand for well-trained workers continues to outstrip the supply. The Mass Tech Leadership Council estimates there will be up to 120,000 data science jobs in Massachusetts by 2018 as more organizations continue to expand and integrate data science systems and capabilities.

McCallum notes that “data science develops and applies methods to collect, curate, and analyze large-scale data and to make discoveries and decisions using those analyses.” It addresses challenges from how to design accurate, wearable health sensors to the interpretation of images and text, to the design of algorithms for streaming data at a massive scale. “Tools for data science and students trained to use and extend those tools are in high demand,” he says, “because data science techniques have the power to transform existing business practices and spawn entirely new businesses and industries.”

The new UMass Amherst center will take advantage of its partnership with the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center in Holyoke, a research computing data center operated by five of the most research-intensive universities in the state, UMass Amherst, Boston University, Harvard University, MIT and Northeastern University. It serves the growing research computing needs of the five founding universities as well as other institutions.

Examples of ongoing data science partnerships and projects at UMass Amherst include a collaboration with Holyoke Gas & Electric to increase energy efficiency with smart meters and smart grid technology; a collaboration with Akamai to understand how billions of users around the world interact with Internet-based services; a National Institutes of Health project through the National Institutes of Health National Center of Excellence for Mobile Sensor Data-to-Knowledge on the campus to study next-generation wearable health sensors, and data analytics for drug abuse and detox programs. There are currently about 150 faculty working in data science-related areas at UMass Amherst.