man pointing to part of a human brain on a computer screen
Wednesday, November 20, 2013 - 8:44am

The University of Iowa has launched a major multidisciplinary initiative that campus leaders expect will establish the university as a national center of excellence in the rapidly evolving field of informatics.

At the heart of the UI Informatics Initiative, or UI3, is the creation of a new “cluster” of informatics faculty under the UI Cluster Hire Initiative.

The exponential growth of digital data, or “big data,” is transforming how individuals and institutions conduct research, do business, and engage with communities. In concert with that growth in data, informatics—the creation, evaluation, and utilization of digital information—is becoming increasingly central to fields as diverse as business, art, geography, and health care.

“Informatics is a powerful enabler of research, education, and engagement,” says Dan Reed, vice president for research and economic development. “It touches almost everything we do at the university.”

According to Reed and P. Barry Butler, UI executive vice president and provost, UI3 will build on existing UI strengths, integrate and coordinate informatics activities across campus, and lead to exciting new opportunities in research, undergraduate and graduate education, and public partnerships.

The university has many existing areas of strength in informatics-related educational and research activities, and has made significant investments to date at the institutional and collegiate levels.

All six of the university’s existing faculty clusters under the UI Cluster Hire Initiative (Aging Mind and Brain, Genetics, Obesity, Public Humanities in a Digital World, Public Digital Arts, and Water Sustainability) rely heavily on informatics. Investments in the high performance computing clusters Helium and Neon, along with expanded digital storage, are laying the foundation for big data work by providing crucial capacity.

“What we need is an integrated focus, to muster the necessary resources and leadership to advance informatics at Iowa to the next level of excellence,” says Butler. “The informatics initiative is a plan to integrate informatics across all disciplines.”

The ultimate goal of the initiative will be to pull together faculty and staff to conduct leading-edge informatics research and discovery, and also partner with researchers and teachers across campus whose work depends on the creation, evaluation, and utilization of large amounts of digital information.

The initiative will include participation by three kinds of experts: core informatics faculty, with expertise in data analytics, hardware and software architecture and engineering, computer graphics and visualization, networks and sensors, and related areas; “bridge” faculty, or individuals who use informatics to advance their research and teaching in digital arts and humanities, bioinformatics, health information, public health, geoinformatics, business analytics, physical and social sciences, and many other fields; and partnership staff who have broad-based campus involvement in a number of research areas.

Informatics faculty will be hired through the UI Cluster Hire Initiative. As with previous cluster hires, these individuals will have primary appointments in established academic departments, but will collaborate with new and existing faculty from across campus to contribute to the goals of the initiative.

Gregory R. Carmichael, Karl Kammermeyer Professor of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering the UI College of Engineering, will serve as the inaugural director of the initiative.

“I am excited that Greg has agreed to take on this important and challenging role,” says Butler. “His creativity, his extraordinary scholarly record, and most of all his proven ability to transcend disciplinary boundaries are going to be key to the successful launch of this ambitious effort.”

The informatics initiative emerged from the work of an interdisciplinary Informatics Task Force chaired by Steve Fleagle, UI chief information officer and director of Information Technology Services. The task force worked over spring 2013 semester with the charge to develop a campus-wide action plan to strengthen informatics education, training, research, and collaborative support across the diversity of activities and needs at the university.

To learn more about UI3, visit this website.

This Iowa Now Story was authored by Kris Yows, Office of the Provost. Photo: Hans Johnson, assistant professor of psychiatry.