Informatics symposium at UGA draws nearly 150 participants

Group talking at symposiumNearly 150 participants from 30 units at the University of Georgia gathered yesterday for a daylong symposium created to foster interdisciplinary collaboration following the creation of the Georgia Informatics Institutes for Research and Education.

“A major goal of the GII is to bring us together, and this event is one of the ways that we’re doing that,” said associate professor of engineering Kyle Johnsen, the inaugural director of the GII.

Johnsen explained that the Georgia Informatics Institutes are plural, like the National Institutes of Health, to reflect close collaboration with specialized units such as UGA’s Institute for Bioinformatics, the digital humanities initiative and departments such as computer science and management information systems. The mission of the GII is to be “hub, integrator and incubator for informatics activities in Georgia,” he said.

To accomplish its mission, the GII will identify and form teams for large, interdisciplinary research projects that tackle grand challenges with implications for human health, safety and security, and UGA’s land-grant mission of service. In addition, the GII will increase the baseline of informatics knowledge and skills among students through curricular offerings such as new undergraduate and graduate certificate programs in informatics that are in development.

Johnsen said that employers across the state and beyond have emphasized their need for college graduates with skills in data analytics, cybersecurity and related fields, and informatics is also helping scientists, engineers and other scholars create knowledge and advance discovery.

“Informatics is a key strategic direction at the university,” said Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Pamela Whitten. She noted that approximately 160 faculty members at the university incorporate informatics into their work, and UGA recently completed a Presidential Informatics Hiring Initiative that has brought eight new faculty members to campus.  She went on to explain that “UGA is unique in the interdisciplinary approach it is applying to informatics challenges.”

The symposium, which was sponsored by the College of Engineering and the Provost’s Office, included keynote addresses from John Leslie King, the William Warner Bishop Collegiate Professor of Information at the University of Michigan, and Carter T. Butts, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine. Symposium participants shared their findings during a poster session and discussed potential research collaborations in seven broad areas—such as mind and body; security, cooperation and conflict; and world and economy—during an “InfoMashup” session.

Six of the eight faculty members hired through the Presidential Informatics Faculty Hiring Initiative discussed their research, which ranges from the development of software and statistical tools to understand and predict political behavior to the use of informatics to speed the discovery of new drugs and drive quality and efficiency improvements in health care.

“I saw a lot of bridges being built between different disciplines today,” said Alexander Bucksch, an assistant professor with joint appointments in the department of plant biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, the Institute of Bioinformatics and the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. “I think that’s the strongest point here: exchanging ideas and methods to address scientific questions in different fields.”

WRITER: Sam Fahmy
​PHOTO CREDIT: Dorothy Kozlowski

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