New research initiative is designed to advance data-driven science

A new seed funding program announced this week will help establish interdisciplinary research teams to advance big data at Iowa State. Initial proposals are due May 11.

The Presidential Initiative for Interdisciplinary Research in Data Driven Science is an extension of President Steven Leath's inaugural program, which sponsored teams of researchers pursuing large-scale funding opportunities for major research initiatives. The new initiative supports Leath's goal of establishing the university as a leader in big data science.

Initiative details

Big data encompasses not only the massive volume of data becoming available in so many areas, but the structures, processes and analytical potential of harnessing information from multiple, complex data sources.

"Data science touches all of our colleges and research centers at Iowa State, from genomics and phenomics, to national infrastructure concerns, to business and marketing analysis," Leath said. "This large-scale effort is intended to boost the formation of multidisciplinary teams working across the university and creating innovative, data-driven approaches."

Vice president for research Sarah Nusser said the new initiative is designed to develop the big data community at Iowa State and complements other education and outreach efforts in data driven science underway here.

"Big data is widely recognized as a paradigm shift in how we approach research, education and outreach," Nusser said. "The data-driven science seed program fosters research groups who can be competitive in pursuing the numerous funding opportunities that require deep connections among the motivating application, data science and related social impacts -- including integrating education and outreach with research."

Research components to be included

The initiative will target interdisciplinary research groups using data-driven science as an approach to their scientific inquiry in their disciplinary areas -- also called content domains. Fields from all colleges are considered a potential content domain for this initiative.

Data science also is an important part of the research approach. This  includes accounting for the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) science areas that relate to how the data are generated and stored, their underlying structure, as well as data processing and analyzing methods to extract information. In addition, data science involves understanding the societal impacts of big data, such as policy, ethics and privacy issues. These areas link to the humanities and social sciences. 

Team composition

Because the work is expected to cut across disciplines rather than focus only on core data science, teams will have four or more faculty and staff members from multiple academic units on campus. Each team is required to have at least one faculty investigator in the application domain area, at least one in the core data science area, and one member representing the social impact of the project research, if applicable. The lead investigator should be a full or associate professor at Iowa State.

Three-year funding

Teams will be funded over three years -- $100,000 to $200,000 per group each year -- with funds to be partially supported by cost sharing. Up to three groups are expected to receive funding in the initiative's first year, the fiscal year that begins on July 1. More teams may be funded in the following two years.

The Office of the Vice President for Research (VPR office) will lead the initiative, starting with a review and selection process that includes submission of initial white papers and then full proposals by invitation. Subject matter experts will be called upon to take part in this review process.


  • May 11: Teams interested in competing for funding should submit a three-page white paper to the VPR office (guidelines are online)
  • May 26: Invitations to submit full proposals will be distributed to selected teams by this date
  • June 22: Proposals due
  • July 6: Notification of awards will go out by this date

Questions about the initiative should be directed to associate vice president for research Wolfgang Kliemann