With so much data collected in the digital age, finding nuggets of useful information can prove quite a challenge.
That's where the College's discovery informatics program hopes to help, applying mathematics and computer science to a variety of data-intensive fields.
Here, students try to "glean the meaning out of the masses of data," says Renée McCauley, computer science professor and the director of the discovery informatics program.
That might mean detecting patterns in e-commerce or sifting through molecular biology data to find useful indicators. Or looking at accounting figures and financial statistics. Or even psychological data and physics data.
"There's so much data out there," says McCauley. "It's a field for our students to apply computer science techniques in areas they are interested in."
Two recent graduates devoted their final project to studying more than 55,000 records on hospital profitability. The students created algorithms to analyze the records and in turn divided the hospitals into high-income and low-income groups. Their data mining techniques enabled them to group the hospitals into other useful categories, too. And while the results are satisfying, the process of making sense of so much data can be quite laborious.
McCauley gives fair warning to those contemplating majoring in discovery informatics. "It's pretty rigorous," she says. "But it's worth the work."