The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has awarded a
Johns Hopkins University faculty member a $1.2 million
grant to devise a new method for analyzing information
created in data-intensive fields such as astronomy and
genetics. The grant matches an earlier W.M. Keck Foundation
grant of the same amount and will fund three postdoctoral
fellows in advanced scientific data analysis.
Under the terms of the five-year grant, Alexander
Szalay, Alumni Centennial Professor in the
Henry J. Rowland
Department of Physics and Astronomy in the Krieger
School and a professor of
computer science in the Whiting School, will use a new
approach to analyzing very large data sets to solve what he
calls "problems on the frontiers of science."
"The massive amounts of data emerging from our newest
instruments — telescopes, particle detectors, gene
sequencers — demand a novel method of analysis that
coalesces the skills of astronomers, biologists and others
with those of the computer scientist, the computational
scientist and the statistician," Szalay said. "Most
scientific data collected today will never be directly
examined as 'raw data' by scientists; instead, it will be
put online into 'smart databases' where it will be analyzed
and summarized by computer programs before scientists even
see or use it."
William R. Brody, president
of the university, said, "This project has the potential to
transform not just one or two fields but the way we
approach a broad array of problems across many disciplines.
My thanks go to the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for
recognizing the possibilities and making a very special
investment in the future of science."
Szalay has spent the past decade creating the various
components necessary for the development of a
multidisciplinary approach to data analysis that can scale
beyond terabytes — a measurement equal to 1 trillion
bytes — as part of the creation of the science
archive for the
Sloan Digital Sky Survey. As a result of that work, the
critical foundation for a scalable approach now exists, he
Much of this work was done in collaboration with Jim
Gray of Microsoft Research and a team of astronomers and
computer scientists at Johns Hopkins. This development also
led to the National Virtual Observatory, a National Science
Foundation-funded five-year project that brought together
collaborators from all over the country to create the
World-Wide Telescope, which put the world's astronomy data
into an easy-to-use system.
"In some fields, data from many different archives,
located at different places throughout the world, have to
be cross-correlated to produce new insights," Szalay said.
"In other fields, the sheer amount of data is so
overwhelming that we need databases capable of manipulating
it in ways that will allow us to extract science. This
requires new skills from 21st-century scientists. Our group
at Johns Hopkins is using this approach to data analysis
over a wide range of problems from astronomy to turbulence
to wireless sensor networks collecting data from the
In addition to several postdoctoral fellows, the Johns
Hopkins team includes faculty members Ethan Vishniac and
Rosemary Wyse of Physics and Astronomy, Charles Mene-veau
of Mechanical Engineering and Katalin Szlavecz of Earth and
This is the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation's first
grant to the university.
Intel co-founder Gordon Moore and his wife, Betty,
established their philanthropic organization in September
2000 to fund outcome-based projects aimed at measurably
improving the quality of life for future generations. Its
focus is on grant-making initiatives that support
environmental conservation, science, higher education and
the San Francisco Bay Area.
The grant is part of The Johns Hopkins: Knowledge for
the World campaign. Commitments to the campaign have
reached $1.558 billion, more than three-quarters of the $2
billion goal. Priorities of the campaign, which benefits
both The Johns Hopkins University and The Johns Hopkins
Hospital and Health System, include strengthening endowment
for student aid and faculty support; advancing research,
academic and clinical initiatives; and building and
upgrading facilities on all campuses. The campaign began in
July 2000 and is scheduled to end in 2007.