Created by on 7/17/2012 12:00:00 AM

As biological and biomedical datasets continue to grow at a phenomenal rate, the National Institutes of Health and other science agencies are increasingly concerned about how they will deal with the onslaught of information. To address this issue, on June 27th, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Representative Steve Womack (R-AR) co-hosted a congressional briefing titled “Big Data: The New Natural Resource.” Organized by IBM, which has a facility in Womack’s district, the goal of the briefing was to draw attention to big data issues and to call on the federal government to set data standards and take steps to facilitate public/private partnerships. Feinstein, citing the doubling of the world’s data every 18 months, made the case that, “Maintenance of United States preeminence in supercomputing and analytics will be critical to our national security interests… medical research, and other areas.” California boasts the world’s most powerful supercomputer, Sequoia, which was built by IBM for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Following the Senator’s remarks, David McQueeney, Vice President for Software at IBM Research, discussed thinking about big data as a natural resource. He emphasized the convergence of hardware, computational tools, and the growing recognition of the value of big data, which, he said, is the enhanced capacity to identify large scale patterns, whether in the context of traffic management, financial services, or healthcare. Representing the biomedical research sphere, Associate Director for Research Cyberinfrastructure at Rutgers University Shantenu Jha spoke about the Protein Data Bank and the Alzheimer’s Imaging Consortium. He emphasized the power of big data to bring disparate information together to create new research opportunities. A critical plank in the community’s response strategy will involve computational and analytics tools. As such, engaging with stakeholders from other information domains may facilitate the development and application of novel approaches to the problems faced by biomedical researchers.