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Dal To Open Big Data Institute

Dalhousie University will soon launch an Institute for Big Data Analytics to nurture research into the burgeoning field that has already produced some of the most exciting startups in Atlantic Canada.

As part of the effort to boost data analytics education in the region, Dalhousie will also initiate a specialization in data science as part of its bachelor of computer science program, starting this autumn.

These developments are important because a broad swath of government and industry has targeted big data as a key economic sector in the region, and universities are a key component in making it happen.

Michael Shepherd, dean of computer science at Dalhousie, said in an interview last week that the institute will be officially launched during a conference called the Canadian Visual Analytics School, which will be held at Dalhousie from July 15 to 19. {Disclosure: Dalhousie University is a sponsor of Entrevestor.]

Stan Matwin, a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair and specialist in machine learning and data mining, will head the institute.

“The institute will receive some funding from (the provincial department of Economic and Regional Development and Tourism) for outreach to small- and medium-sized companies on courses in big data analytics,” said Shepherd.

The goal will be to help small- and medium-sized enterprises understand how they can analyze data to improve the performance of their business.

In a blog on the Dalhousie website, Matwin said he hoped to work with colleagues to create “an active, dynamic centre of excellence” to “attract talent, ideas and applications (that) and will make Dalhousie a globally visible centre for this type of research.”

He said the institute will get a very powerful computer, an IBM Netezza. Matwin called it “a unique machine not only here, but on campuses generally, which will provide an excellent infrastructure for big data applications.”

Dalhousie and other regional universities have been working to increase education and research in data analytics, spurred on to do so after IBM announced it would establish a data analytics centre in Halifax in the near future.

IBM’s announcement happened as T4G chief executive officer Geoff Flood proposed a big data centre of excellence in the region, and co-hosted the Big Data Congress in Saint John, N.B., to raise awareness of the potential of big data.

Shortly after IBM made its announcement, Shepherd said Dalhousie was hoping to establish a specialization in data sciences soon to go along with existing specializations in gaming, artificial intelligence and cyber-security.

He said the university already offered several courses needed for a specialization in data science, and has added a few more courses to fill in what was needed. Some experts in the field argue that data analytics is so complex the region needs more graduate students in the field, not undergraduates.

However, Shepherd disagrees, adding that many of the students working on the big data credentials will be third- and fourth-year students, and they will, therefore, be more mature.

“If you have the right suite of courses, along with a co-op program, I think we can do it,” said Shepherd.

The Canadian Visual Analytics School is an intensive three-day summer school in visual analytics, followed by a two-day industry-university partnerships workshop. Professors Daniel Keim from the University of Konstanz in Germany and Junia Anacleto from the Universidade Federal de Sao Carlos in Brazil will lead the event, Shepherd said.

Some keynote addresses will be broadcast simultaneously to Middlesex University in London, and Simon Fraser University and University of British Columbia.