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A Year of Computational Discovery: The CI’s 2013 in Review

By Rob Mitchum // December 31, 2013


Researchers at the CI’s Center for Multiscale Theory and Simulation published a paper in The Journal of Physical Chemistry using computational models to study the activity of monoclonal antibody therapies used for cancer, arthritis and other conditions.


With a $5.2 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation, CI Senior Fellow James Evans launched the Knowledge Lab, a new research center dedicated to using text-mining, network theory, and other computational techniques to study the creation, evolution, and spread of human knowledge.

The Urban Studies Research Coordination Network, led by the CI’s Urban Center for Computation and Data, held its inaugural meeting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, bringing together computer scientists, statisticians, artists, policy experts and urban planners to explore new research directions.

A paper in Ecology Letters from the laboratory of CI Faculty Stefano Allesina described the multi-dimensionality of ecological networks, which will help scientists develop better models for studying food networks and invasive species.


The human body has its own ecology, a world of bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms that lives inside our organs and on our skin. As part of TEDxNaperville, CI Senior Fellow Rick Stevens described ongoing efforts to reveal those universes within and determine how they affect our health and wellbeing.

The Research Data Management Implementations Workshop in Arlington, VA brought institutions together to compare IT successes and failures, and featured a keynote address by CI Director Ian Foster about building cloud-based services for research.

A collaboration between the City of Chicago and the Urban Center for Computation and Data finished ahead of several dozen entries in the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge, receiving $1 million to develop the SmartData Platform to help cities run more efficiently and effectively.

As part of Argonne National Laboratory’s OutLoud series, CI Senior Fellow Pete Beckman gave a whirlwind tour through the history of computing, from abacuses and slide rules through Angry Birds and exascale.


Some of the same techniques used by special effects teams in film to create computer-generated worlds are deployed by computational chemists to study the activity of molecular machines invisible to traditional scientific equipment, said CI Senior Fellow and Faculty Gregory Voth in his talk for the Chicago Council on Science & Technology.

After a very busy year working as Chief Data Scientist for the Obama re-election campaign, Rayid Ghani joined the Computation Institute to help create a new generation of people interested in making a social impact through data and analytics.

The 2012 drought that struck the United States may have offered a sneak preview of how climate change will disrupt agriculture, according to research by CI Fellow Joshua Elliott covered in International Science Grid This Week.

The annual GlobusWorld conference unveiled new capabilities of the research data management software and featured testimonies from researchers around the world that are using the platform. Earlier in the month, the team announced Globus Genomics, a cloud-based platform for moving and analyzing genomic data.

Researchers celebrated the first three years of the Beagle — UChicago’s 150-teraflop supercomputer dedicated to studies in biology and medicine. The Day of the Beagle featured over a dozen talks about work enabled by the machine, ranging from neuroscience to molecular biology to genetic medicine.

Two large gifts were announced to fund UChicago biomedical research using big data to study pancreatic cancer and other diseases using genetics and electronic medical records.

During Big Data Week in Chicago, a CI/UrbanCCD panel discussed the use of government and public data in constructing and evaluating policy, and Joseph Insley and Rayid Ghani gave webinars on their work in data visualization and political campaigns, respectively.


An all-star roster of computer scientists assembled at Argonne National Laboratory to celebrate 30 Years of Parallel Computing, highlighting the contributions of the lab towards creating the computer architecture of today.

CI Senior Fellow Rick Stevens testified to Congress about the importance of US leadership in “the race to exascale” — building computers capable of performing one million trillion calculations per second.

Mobile apps can be much more than just time-killing games, and CI Fellow Andrew Binkowski explained how to get started developing mobile applications for education and research at a Faculty Technology Day event.

The CERN Laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland hosted its first-ever TEDx conference, and invited CI Director Ian Foster to speak about his vision of The Discovery Cloud — using the potential of cloud computing to bring advanced scientific computing infrastructure to researchers around the world.


The first 40 fellows of the Data Science for Social Good Summer Fellowship arrived in Chicago for 12 busy weeks developing solutions for non-profits and government agencies. DSSG Director Rayid Ghani spoke at Techweek Chicago about how the program offers a new path for students interested in using technology to improve the world.

Computation Institute researchers were well represented at the University’s Alumni Weekend, with Senior Fellow Gary An giving a talk about modeling in biomedicine, UrbanCCD director Charlie Catlett appearing on an urban data panel with Harris School of Public Policy Dean Colm O’Muircheartaigh and Lewis-Sebring Distinguished Service Professor Stephen W. Raudenbush, and Director Ian Foster talking about how “Big Computation” can unlock bigger knowledge.


Argonne National Laboratory, with help from Sen. Dick Durbin, officially unveiled their newest supercomputer, Mira, a 10-petaflop IBM Blue Gene/Q machine that ranks among the top ten fastest computers in the world.

CI Senior Fellow Benoit Roux published new findings in the journal Natureon how water affects one of the most important proteins for life, the potassium channel.


To address the challenges of planning the massive 600-acre Chicago Lakeside Development on the South Side, UrbanCCD researchers linked up with developers McCaffery Interests and architects at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill for the LakeSim project, a computational platform for large-scale urban design.

In a paper for Cancer Research, CI Fellow and Faculty Samuel Volchenboum and CI Fellow Mike Wilde published a new algorithm to help researchers find better genetic classifiers for diagnosing and treating cancer.

The inaugural class of the Data Science for Social Good Fellowship summarized their summer work in a Data Slam event held downtown at the University of Chicago Gleacher Center.


The Knowledge Lab’s Metaknowledge Research Network held their first meeting in Pacific Grove, California, strategizing their approach to questions such as “What makes someone a great scientist or inventor?”

A team led by CI Senior Fellow and Faculty Andrey Rzhetsky analyzed over 120 million patient records and thousands of scientific studies to create a groundbreaking genetic map of complex diseases, research published in the journal Cell.


No news was bigger this year than the naming of CI Senior Fellow Lars Peter Hansen as one of three recipients of the 2013 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. Hansen received the honor along with UChicago colleague Eugene Fama and Yale’s Robert Shiller, and was credited with important statistical work in the field of econometrics. A panel of UChicago economists later celebrated the significance of Hansen and Fama’s contributions to the field and our knowledge about the behavior of financial markets. Other Nobel Prizes awarded this month acknowledged computational work in discovering the Higgs Boson and studying chemical changes.

The Texas Advanced Computing Center announced Wrangler, a new open source data analysis and management system that will use Globus services for data transfer.

The Center for Robust Decision Making on Climate and Energy Policy held their annual all-hands meeting in Chicago, and discussed research that is improving the accuracy and scope of computer models for climate, agriculture, and the economy.

As scientific instruments collect more data and more complex data, their computational demands soar. CI Senior Fellow Andrew Chien launched a project with measurement company Agilent to find new pattern-matching strategies for analyzing that data more quickly and efficiently.

In a paper published by PLoS Genetics, CI Senior Fellow Nancy Cox addressed one of the most important mysteries in the study of genetics and disease: the case of missing heritability.

UrbanCCD Director Charlie Catlett spoke to an architecture conferenceabout the potential of data to transform how cities are designed and built.


The Computation Institute invited the University of Chicago campus to a series of “lightning talks” — short presentations of ongoing research and opportunities for student involvement (Watch videos from the event at the CI YouTube channel).

The Social Sciences Division produced a video and feature on CI Senior Fellow James Evans and his new Knowledge Lab; Evans also wrote an editorial in Science discussing how modeling scientific impact and using “robot scientists” to suggest experiments could revolutionize research.

A panel of CI and UrbanCCD experts discussed the data-based future of city planning and development in a special UChicago Discovery Series event, Chicago: City of Big Data.

CI Director Ian Foster and Fellow Ravi Madduri presented the discovery-accelerating powers of Globus and Globus Genomics at Amazon Web Services’ re:Invent conference.


A multi-institutional collaboration including the CI announced the new Center for Hierarchical Materials Design to explore innovative new avenues in the creation of materials for technology, medicine, and energy.

As part of a special section in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, CI Fellow Joshua Elliott and other RDCEP researchers published a study modeling the effect of climate change on the world’s freshwater supply and agriculture.

PATRIC, the world’s largest database of genomic information about pathogenic bacteria, prepared for its tenth anniversary by surpassing 10,000 annotated genomes.

University of Chicago students tested the limits of the new Hack Arts Lab in the first-ever digital fabrication course.

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