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March 28th, 2012

Materials Genome Initiative, other federal ‘big data’ projects to be covered in Thursday live webcast

Published on March 28th, 2012 | By: pwray@ceramics.org

Time using Oak Ridge National Lab’s Jaguar computer — recently upgraded to the “Titan” level (soon to be capable of 20 petaflops speed) — is being offered as a tool by federal agencies to researchers involved in “big data” projects. Credit: ORNL.

Okay, I have to confess that I don’t really know if the Materials Genome Initiative is going to be discussed in the event I am about to describe. As a matter of fact, I am not sure exactly what’s going to be discussed in what may be one of the worst-publicized-but-possibly-most-interesting-online-science-events this year, but I will be shocked if the MGI isn’t frequently mentioned.

Here is what I know for sure, based on an obscure notice titled “Challenges and Opportunities in Big Data” on Science360 Live, an online science project of the NSF:

On Thursday, March 29, 2012, from 2-3 pm ET, federal government science heads from OSTP, NSF, NIH, DOE, DOD, DARPA and USGS will outline how their agencies are engaged in Big Data research. Their remarks will be followed by a panel of thought leaders from academia and industry, moderated by Steve Lohr of the New York Times. The event will take place at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C.

If you are interested in watching the webcast live, apparently all you have to do is click on the Science360 Live link above at the stated time. I suspect a recorded version will be made available in a few days.

I first learned about this event this morning after reading a Gigaom blog post. The post claims that the speakers will include John Holdren, assistant to the president and director of OSTP; Subra Suresh, director of NSF; and Marcia McNutt, director of USGS. Gigaom says the event is sponsored by OSTP; a CTOsite post (the only other original post I could find on this event) says it is sponsored by both OSTP and NSF.

I tried to fact-check this by searching through the media advisories from the White House, NSF and the OSTP pressroom and blog, but couldn’t find any announcements, whatsoever. But this thing sounds legit — and potentially interesting. I think the CTOsite has it right when it says, “[T}his will be a GREAT event for those who would like to learn how to explain Big Data concepts. This type of evolution can be very helpful to enhancing cross-government sharing of lessons learned and concepts. I believe this will be very positive. This initiative will discuss R&D activities. Although at a high level, federal R&D focus is usually expressed in terms of frameworks and broad goals, these goals normally translate into budgets so the research community outside of the government should really pay attention.”

The MGI, I think, is one of the few topics that the group will be able to explain with relative ease, and that the probable audience can get their arms around. Besides, I seriously doubt the group wants the discussion to go in the direction of talking about the Hugely Big Data story (NSA’s new yottaflop-scale “Matrix” project), the spin-offs of which are actually going to help enable MGI and other enormous modeling and data management projects.


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