Data analysis key to problem-solving

Jan S. Hesthaven, a professor of applied mathematics at Brown University, firmly believes the ability to understand colossal amounts of data will be the driving force behind the advancement of the world’s economy and of society. In fact, he says the changes have already begun. More

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EDUCATION

Data analysis key to problem-solving

COURTESY BROWN UNIVERSITY
DOING THE MATH: Jan S. Hesthaven, Brown University professor, shows off the supercomputer at the Brown Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics.
Posted 2/13/12

Jan S. Hesthaven, a professor of applied mathematics at Brown University, firmly believes the ability to understand colossal amounts of data will be the driving force behind the advancement of the world’s economy and of society. In fact, he says the changes have already begun.

As the director of Brown’s Center for Computation and Visualization, and the deputy director of their Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics, Hesthaven sees the challenge of processing large amounts of data as a problem that needs greater recognition. Several of his colleagues agree.

“There are a lot of very rich opportunities that come out of this area, where you combine data with computing and modeling,” he said.

On Jan. 25, Hesthaven and three other Brown faculty members appeared before the World Economic Forum’s Ideas Lab in Davos, Switzerland, to speak on the potential of large amounts of data in solving global problems. The forum invited business, political and academic leaders to attend and discuss global, regional and industrial problems and solutions.

The Brown contingent included Hesthaven and three others with dissimilar specialties; John Donoghue, professor of neuroscience; Susan Alcock, professor of archaeology; and Casey Dunn, assistant professor of biology.

Hesthaven introduced the concept that sifting through massive reams of data can enable countries to overcome major challenges such as climate change, alternative sources of energy, curing cancer and lifting people out of poverty.

The professors attested that analyzing a growing wealth of data has diverse applications. Dunn lectured on its uses in the field of genome biology, where he can show how complex, multicellular organisms, including humans, were formed. Alcock discussed using data to realize the economic potential of archaeology, while Donoghue spoke on using large quantities of data sets to evaluate neuro-technologies to cure brain disorders.

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