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Physics professor Bhuvnesh Jain (left) and criminology department chair Greg Ridgeway started the Data Driven Discovery Initiative.

A new initiative in Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences aims to centralize data science education and research across disciplines.

The program, named the Data Driven Discovery Initiative, hopes to provide a forum for interactions between faculty and students working across disciplinary boundaries to spark discoveries, according to Arts & Sciences News. As part of the initiative, the school will provide funding for postdocs to conduct data science research across fields including sociology, neuroscience, and astrophysics. The initiative also includes a program called Data Science for Social Good, which will provide grants to Penn faculty and students in partnership with Philadelphia or global agencies. 

Walter H. and Leonore C. Annenberg Professor in the Natural Sciences Bhuvnesh Jain and Criminology Department Chair Greg Ridgeway spearheaded the initiative, which aims to fund several projects focused in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley on local, national, and global issues. 

“We believe that data science is a powerful avenue for researchers in diverse disciplines to exchange ideas and work together on cutting-edge research,” Jain told Arts & Sciences News.

In particular, the Data Science for Social Good component of the initiative will address societal challenges affecting the well-being of large numbers of people, such as health, public safety, justice, clear air and water, education, and political representation. 

Jain and Ridgeway both rely on data science to conduct research in their respective disciplines. Jain's research in the field of astrophysics includes projects on cosmology and gravitational lensing. Ridgeway, on the other hand, uses data science to develop statistical, computational, and analytical methods to improve and understand the criminal justice system. His methods have been put into practice in police departments such as Los Angeles, New York City, and Cincinnati. 

Ridgeway hopes the initiative will guide Penn students to look at societal challenges from a new and unique viewpoint.

“[Penn students] will have new opportunities to learn core data science skills and engage in projects at the frontiers of data science, generating a new kind of expertise and worldview,” Ridgeway told Arts & Sciences News.