Lehigh University to host collaborative, interdisciplinary workshops in computationally-intensive academic research

Lehigh University has racked up another win with the innovative TRIPODS+X program of the National Science Foundation (NSF.)

The NSF recently announced the awarding of $8.5 million in TRIPODS+X grants to expand the scope of the cross-disciplinary TRIPODS institutes into broader areas of science, engineering and mathematics. In total, NSF will support 19 collaborative projects at 23 universities, with two of the recently-announced grants supporting interdisciplinary Lehigh research endeavors.

Along with the University's recently-announced "turbo boost for materials science," Lehigh's Institute for Data, Intelligent Systems, and Computation (I-DISC) has announced TRIPODS+X funding for a set of specialized workshops on the topic of machine learning as it applies to a variety of emerging applications and academic pursuits.

"These workshops are a perfect way for I-DISC to positively influence a field that touches many aspects of research while expand our network and visibility," says Katya Scheinberg, co-director of I-DISC and principal investigator for the NSF grant and the Harvey E. Wagner Endowed Chair Professor of Industrial Engineering. "Through these workshops, we will bring together top experts from across academic disciplines that leverage machine learning techniques to advance their efforts and create new knowledge. We hope to enable a sharing of expertise across the various areas of science and engineering that have a stake in the tremendous recent surge in adoption of machine learning technologies and tools."

According to Scheinberg, the workshops are a way to marshal expertise and build an academic knowledge network around sophisticated computational tools that analyze data and improve researchers' ability to understand and harness phenomena associated with a wide variety of complex domains.

"Within I-DISC, we feel there is an urgent need to foster interdisciplinary collaboration and promote convergent research initiatives among key industrial, academic, and governmental partners," she says. "The NSF's support enables us to host these workshops and develop a fertile intellectual space where collaboration can be cultivated. We intend for these events to bring new perspectives to bear on complex and entrenched data science problems."

Scheinberg says that, in many ways, this partnership with NSF is in some ways an extension of a 2017 TRIPODS grant, awarded to I-DISC researchers in concert with colleagues from Northwestern University and Boston University, as they sought to advance machine learning by tying together techniques drawn from the fields of statistics, computer science, and applied mathematics.

These workshops are supported by a grant that formally kicks off on October 1, 2018, and runs through September of 2021. The workshops will take place throughout that time period, and information will be posted to the I-DISC Web site as it becomes available. The workshops will initially focus on four topical areas where machine learning has made significant inroads, including the following areas:

  1. Chemistry, chemical engineering, materials science, and related disciplines where machine learning is used to elucidate and design complex processes;
  2. Robotics, where applications of machine learning have been rapidly growing in recent years around sensing technologies and algorithms that assist robots in adaptation or skill acquisition;
  3. Supply chain management with the specific focus on applying machine learning models for prescriptive analytics, such as predicting customer demands.
  4. Cognitive Neuroscience with the focus on understanding the brain-cognition-behavior interface.

About I-DISC

Lehigh's new Interdisciplinary Research Institutes position the University as a thought leader and destination across these themes. Hector Muñoz-Avila, I-DISC co-director and Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, also foresees that the three new Institutes' portfolios will dovetail with each other.

"As an example," says Hector, who serve as co-PI on the new TRIPODS+X project,d "the work of I-DISC will have broad areas for collaboration with I-CPIE and I-FMD, in the context of the increasingly-crucial role that data and computation plays in those domains."

I-DISC's domain extends across intelligent systems, data, computation, optimization, robotics, machine learning, and related fields.

"Our team includes faculty from across Rossin College, as well as government relations, biological sciences, and economics. We identified data, intelligent systems, and computation as places where Lehigh already had great strength that could be put in a position to do more integrated research and have a significant impact," says Muñoz-Avila. "We have seen in recent years a data revolution in terms of the kind and amount of data that is available, and with advances like the Internet of Things there will only be more."

"I-DISC will create bridges across the university and be a fertile space for collaborative work, and the research we do will attack at the root some of the most pressing problems in technology and society," he says.

Existing partnerships with Lehigh's College of Business and Economics (CBE) provide an example of how such cross-pollination creates benefits.

"We already have two specific people who were hired in consultation with the computer science department, and we have made other hires of people who combine business and data and computation in their research and teaching areas," says Georgette Chapman Phillips, the Kevin and Lisa Clayton Dean of the College of Business and Economics. "Our relationship with computer science gives our students the opportunity to have high levels of expertise in data science in addition to business. From a research perspective, I-DISC will push our faculty to the forefront in this area. This field is a perfect example of how Lehigh works well across colleges."

The NSF seems to feel the Lehigh approach is on target.

"The multidisciplinary approach for addressing the increasing volume and complexity of data enabled through the TRIPODS+X projects will have a profound impact on the field of data science and its use," said Jim Kurose, assistant director for Computer and Information Science and Engineering at NSF, in the organization's September 11, 2018, TRIPODS+X announcement. "This impact will be sure to grow as data continues to drive scientific discovery and innovation."

Katya Scheinberg

Katya Scheinberg, I-DISC co-director and Professor of Industrial Engineering. Scheinberg is the principal investigator for the NSF grant.

Hector Muñoz-Avila

Hector Muñoz-Avila, I-DISC co-director and Professor, Computer Science and Engineering. Muñoz-Avila is the co-principal investigator for the NSF grant.