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Dal Research Chair – Sorting Through A World Of Words

The digital age has put more words at our fingertips than at any point in human history. And Stan Matwin, who joined Dal’s Faculty of Computer Science in January 2013, is developing tools to help manage it all.

As the Tier I Canada Research Chair in Visual Text Analytics, his team will develop machine learning methods that extract interesting and useful knowledge from huge blocks of text — databases, document collections, social media — organizing it so it can be applied to solve real problems.

“You’ve heard the term ‘big data’; well, this is part of that, but it’s ‘big text’ in particular,” he explains.

At the University of Ottawa, Dr. Matwin led text analytics projects in a wide variety of fields: helping medical researchers more efficiently find relevant abstracts in databases of hundreds of thousands of documents, analyzing the sentiment of tweets during presidential elections, even helping psychologists find patterns in dream recordings.

“What’s interesting to me is fusing data related to the same subject,” he explains. “Medicine is a great example: you may have some data that’s mostly numbers, but then you have doctors’ or nurses’ notes in text, as well as images and external collections of knowledge from the field. The exciting thing is to put them together, get the data to talk with one another.”

Though he just arrived on campus, Dr. Matwin already has several major grant proposals well underway. He’s completing a study on Twitter sentiment during the 2012 French presidential election, and is also excited to connect his work with Halifax’s medical and IT communities. He says he’s most eager for the opportunity to bring his expertise to Halifax and Dalhousie’s booming ocean sciences sector.

“I’m looking forward to connecting these types of problems [that I explore] with researchers doing work with oceans data. They have big data sets, and I’m meeting with them as we speak at how we can do something together, so we can build a world-class centre for big marine data in Halifax.”