Iowa State helps launch SEEDCorn, a Midwest Big Data Hub supported by the NSF

AMES, Iowa – Iowa State University is one of five universities creating a Midwest Big Data Hub with the support of a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

National Science Foundation logo

The science foundation today announced four regional big data hubs designed to help the country use today’s huge data sets to effectively create knowledge and make decisions. The Midwest hub will be known as SEEDCorn, Sustainable Enabling Environment for Data Collaboration. The hub’s founding schools are Iowa State, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Michigan, Indiana University and the University of North Dakota.

The hub will be led by Edward Seidel of Illinois, where he directs the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and is Founder Professor in Physics and a professor of astronomy. A full-time executive director will be based at Illinois and part-time staff will be based at the other campuses.

Sarah Nusser, Iowa State’s vice president for research, is a co-principal investigator for the Midwest Big Data Hub and a member of its steering committee.

“This is an excellent opportunity for Iowa State to build on its data driven science initiative,” Nusser said. “President Steven Leath has already invested in 20 new big data faculty positions and will soon announce research projects supported by the Presidential Initiative for Interdisciplinary Research for Data Driven Science. We have many strengths to contribute to the Midwest Big Data Hub.”

The hub will be dedicated to meeting the challenges of collecting, managing, mining, storing and analyzing the huge and complex data sets created by today’s research, government and commercial activities. A project description said the SEEDCorn project will work “to harness the power and realize the promise of Big Data.”

A key strategy for harnessing big data will be to establish partnerships between universities, businesses, government agencies and nonprofits, Nusser said. Those partnerships are expected to help the Midwest respond to big data challenges while capturing opportunities and resources for the region.

Nusser, for example, noted the hub will have research themes (dubbed spokes) that are closely related to Iowa’s economy and Iowa State’s strengths, including digital agriculture, advanced manufacturing, smart cities, transportation and a spoke related to the water, food, energy nexus.

The digital agriculture spoke, she said, “Connects to our strengths and interest in precision agriculture, sustainability and research projects connecting agronomists, engineers and plant scientists. I like to think of this as the equivalent of precision medicine for agriculture.”

The SEEDCorn proposal says potential outcomes of the hub include:

  • Creating or strengthening public-private partnerships built on stronger funding as a result of project workshops or events
  • Connecting projects and researchers across the region
  • Developing new educational activities and best practices for colleges and universities
  • Supporting pilot projects that lead to innovation, interlinking and acceleration of data services
  • And, implementing new business models for sustainable data solutions.

That’s all going to make a difference for the region and beyond, according to a project summary:

“The result of SEEDCorn will be a sustainable hub of Big Data activities across the region and across the nation that enable research communities to better tackle complex science, engineering and societal challenges, that support competitiveness of U.S. industry, and that enable decision makers to make more informed decisions on topics ranging from public policy to economic development.”