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Big Data: New Paradigms and Exciting Challenges

April 10–11, 2014

“In the same way that the Internet has combined with web content and search engines to revolutionize every aspect of our lives, the scientific process is poised to undergo a radical transformation based on the ability to access, analyze, and merge large, complex data sets. Scientists will be able to combine their own data with that of other scientists, validating models, interpreting experiments, re-using and re-analyzing data, and making use of sophisticated mathematical analyses and simulations to drive the discovery of relationships across data sets. This ‘scientific web’ will yield higher quality science, more insights per experiment, an increased democratization of science, and a higher impact from major investments in scientific instruments.” — Dr. Katherine Yelick

This year’s symposium explores aspects of this information revolution in a panel discussion and plenary talks. We will discover how the practical challenges of computing power, data storage and access, data manipulation and quality control are combined with the novel intellectual approaches emerging from these new technologies, leading to unprecedented scientific insight.

Stephanie Hampton will help us understand our planet from an ecosystem perspective and S. George Djorgovski will help us understand our universe. Both applications require new computing power — hardware and software approaches, introduced to us by Katherine Yelick — as well as new ways of approaching scientific questions. Earlier, Francis Harvey introduced us to the social implications and pitfalls of big data approaches using his applications of geographical data. Our goal is to begin to grasp the new paradigms for approaching science and the exciting technical and intellectual challenges ahead.

About the Science Symposium

The Science Symposium at St. Olaf College offers a time to focus on areas where emerging science and social issues converge, and to celebrate the research accomplishments of our natural science and mathematics students. The first Science Symposium was held in 1999 and has been generously funded each year by the Paul and Mildred Hardy Distinguished Professorship in the Sciences. The St. Olaf community and visitors are invited to presentations by notable speakers who share their current research and their reflections on its implications for society. A poster session — during which students present their research — and small group meetings with the invited speakers offer an opportunity to see the world through the lens of science.