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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Academics & Research

UH announces new data science institute

The Institute for Data Science will be housed in the recently built Multidisciplinary Research and Engineering Building. | Thomas Dwyer/The Cougar

The University of Houston announced Thursday it has opened a new Institute for Data Science, bringing to campus another Houston hub for a rapidly developing field.

The institute’s researchers are using data to study topics such as cyber and physical security, drug development, sustainable communities and infrastructure and accessible, personalized healthcare. The University will look for partners within and outside of Texas that can utilize the institute’s research, according to a news release.

“Houston is a natural location for a focus on data science, with its strengths in energy and health care and its substantial technology and software industries,” said Andrea Prosperetti, an engineering professor who will lead the new institute, in the release.

The institute will serve as an umbrella for research within the already-existing Center for Advanced Computing and Data Systems and other various departments.

The institute plans to offer certificates and undergraduate and graduate degrees. The University already offers a graduate program in statistics and data analysis within the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. It is unclear if this and other programs will shift into the new institute.

The University does plan to start new undergraduate programs eventually, said Jeannie Keaver, a UH spokesperson.

Degrees without a focus on data science are also affected by the launch of the institute — UH will incorporate data science into other programs as needs develop, according to the news release.

Provost Paula Myrick Short said in the news release that planning for the institute began in April 2016. Prosperetti was recruited to UH in July 2016 through the Governor’s Research Initiative Fund, which brings top-level professors to Texas universities with multi-million dollar grants.

“The whole world is evolving around predictive analytics,” Myrick Short said in the release. “We have to respond to that. We have just skimmed the surface of what is possible for the economy, for education.”

The announcement comes after the University of Texas canceled its plan in March to build a 300-plus acre data center in Houston. In a report obtained by the Houston Chronicle, the advisory committee for the expansion recommended that the expansion have a data center focused on energy, education and health— key sectors of the Houston economy that UH’s data center will research.

The expansion was canceled after lawmakers and regents objected to the expansion due to UT’s lack of transparency regarding purchase and planned use of the land.

In May, Mayor Sylvester Turner, a UH alumnus, encouraged the University to consider opening its own data science center or collaborating with other universities to start one.

“If we are going to become Tier One, and we are, we must not be scared of competition,” Turner said, addressing UH. “We must take them on and make it happen.”

Rice University recently began a university-wide $45 million Data Science Initiative, which focuses on urban flooding, air quality and health and education policy. It is unclear if there are any plans for UH and Rice to collaborate on data science research.

The institute at UH will be in the newly-opened Multidisciplinary Research and Engineering Building, which includes the high-performance computing infrastructure necessary for the institute’s work.

“This is a way to bring it all together, using the resources we have as a university and with our partners,” Short said.

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