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Lecture series opens with discussion on “Big Data”


Krzywinski, Tolle and Hood listen to the community members during the question and answer portion of the event on Wednesday, April 6, at the Mount Baker Theater.
Krzywinski, Tolle and Hood listen to the community members during the question and answer portion of the event on Wednesday, April 6, at the Mount Baker Theater.

On Wednesday, April 6, Western’s Fraser Lecture Series hosted its first “Big Data” seminar at the Mount Baker Theater.

According to Western Today “Big Data,” refers to data sets that are so large or complex traditional data-processing applications are actually inadequate in cracking these data sets to get the important information.

This seminar consisted of three keynote speakers and is the first of the free discussions that will continue throughout April.

Jeff Carroll, assistant professor of Western’s psychology department, introduced the series and started the night by presenting the first speaker.

Dr. Lee Hood, president and co-founder of the Institute for Systems Biology, gave a presentation focused on how big data will affect the health care industry in the future.

He is pioneering a new approach to medicine called P4 medicine. P4 stands for predictive, preventive, personalized and participatory.  According to the Institute for Systems of Biology medicine today is reactive, people wait until they are feeling symptoms before they get treated. With P4 medicine it will be proactive and will be able to predict when an organ will become diseased.

The seminar continued with Kristin Tolle, the director of data science initiative at Microsoft Research Outreach in Redmond.

Her presentation focused on the environmental aspect of big data.

“Bringing together multiple data sources and doing interoperability and doing big data analytics that are actually going to help save our lives,” Tolle said.

She explained how the National Flood Interoperability Experiment provided most of the data to develop a real-time flood mapping system to improve national disaster response. She worked with researchers at numerous educational institutions and government agencies, according to the Microsoft Research Outreach website.

“The goal of it is really to carry out this sort of national scale of experiment, this is actually part of Obama’s open data initiative,” Tolle said.

The “Big Data Research and Development Initiative,” was announced by the Obama administration on March 29.

Bonnie Sullivan is studying behavioral neuroscience at Western. Sullivan said Hood was her favorite speaker of the night.

“The visualization, I think that’s the most important thing. It’s communicating science in a correct way,” Sullivan said.  “I think that visualization can get people intrigued and interested without necessarily overselling it.”

At the British Columbia Cancer Agency, Martin Krzywinski works on data visualization applied to cancer research and genome analysis.

Krzywinski represented the other side of “Big Data,” which is how to take it and really communicate it to the community.

“The goal is to find this concept of quality inside the quantity, inside the data,” Krzywinski said.

The event wrapped up with some of the audience asking the speakers questions about the concept of big data.

According to Western Today, the series is funded by an endowment from the estate of Gordon H. and Alice C. Fraser. The sole purpose is to support lectures, seminars and workshops with an emphasis on health and life sciences.

The next free discussion will be from 6p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 13, in Academic Instructional Center West 204. Jeff Carroll will present “Genomic Research of Huntington’s Disease.”

There will be more free discussions held on April 20 and 27.  As well as a set of workshops and discussions for Western students and faculty on April 7 and 8.



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