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Informatics Institute to Serve U-Wide Research Community

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The Office of the Vice President for Research recently established the new system-wide University of Minnesota Informatics Institute, whose acronym, UMII, should sound familiar as it referred to the U’s former informatics initiative. Keeping the acronym signals some continuity, but replacing “initiative” with “institute” indicates a robust commitment.

The new institute has a broad vision of “envisioning and realizing the digital future through defining and developing the informatics infrastructure, advancing data analytics and exploring the impact of big data on the human experience.” UMII’s funding comes from MnDRIVE and University Administration to fulfill its mission of fostering “data-intensive research in agriculture, engineering, environment, health, humanities and social sciences and to identify education and infrastructure needs.” MnDRIVE funding also gives a specific mandate to partner “with industry to harness the power of big data for economic growth and development.”

Building this new institute will be a collaborative effort. I have spent my first few weeks as director of UMII visiting with university faculty, staff and administrators to listen to their needs and identify how this institute can help our university community advance its research and education mission. I continue to be impressed by the breadth of research at the U. Many of our researchers utilize high-throughput facilities to generate data for their research. Others rely on existing data sets and combine them in novel ways to answer new questions.

In my meetings with the university research community, I have learned about the latest technologies in genome sequencing and the challenges we face with the increase in velocity and volume of data that are generated by every new generation of machines. I have heard from our faculty about the study of communities of microbes at the genomics level, the integration of environmental data into procurement systems to reduce the carbon footprint, and controlled experiments on the web to improve the user experience. In my conversations, I have heard the need for informatics services to enable our researchers to harness the power of big data. I have also heard about the need to integrate informatics thinking into our curricula, ranging from equipping students with analytical skills to gaining a deeper appreciation of how big data is affecting our daily lives.

Improving the user experience is high on my to-do list. I have started to talk with the College of Design about how to incorporate design thinking into informatics. Design thinking is an area that I encountered in my previous position as vice chancellor on the Rochester campus where I was in charge of designing and building the academic side of that new campus. Design thinking is a powerful way to identify the unmet (and often unarticulated) needs of users and to prototype and test ideas before implementation.

In my next few weeks, I will continue to meet with faculty, staff and administrators on the Twin Cities campus and the other system campuses, in addition to visiting industry. I will also start announcing additional funding initiatives in the next few weeks. So, stay tuned for more news from UMII.

Learn more about the University of Minnesota Informatics Institute.

Submitted by Claudia Neuhauser, Ph.D., director, University of Minnesota Informatics Institute.

Originally published on Research @ the U of M.

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Contributing Writer

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