Kaila Hindle
Kaila Hindle
January 17, 2019

NASA scientist: Data research the ‘new frontier’

NASA scientist Ryan McGranaghan spoke at the University of New Brunswick on Tuesday.

The “new frontier” of science is big data, NASA scientist Ryan McGranaghan told his audience during a lecture at the University of New Brunswick on Tuesday.

“[Data science] extends across science and engineering, and even into business,” McGranaghan said. “It’s radically interdisciplinary.”

Data science is the collection and processing of huge amounts of information at a fast rate. The field is constantly evolving with huge technological advancements being made each year. McGranaghan said a new system is the only way to keep up and accurately assess and act upon data. He said this system must “be extensively collaborative” and “open by default” to work effectively.

McGranaghan’s conceptualization of these ideas comes, in part, from his prior jobs. He began studying satellite navigation at the University of Colorado, then attended Dartmouth University and eventually landed a job at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Here McGranaghan decided to focus on space weather, the study of how the sun’s energy reacts with the Earth.

“Our activities in space and space weather couldn’t be separated,” he said. “Once you realize [space weather] effects what you do, it’s very hard to engineer your way out of it.”

Through cutting-edge data science, as well as a hefty amount of other physics models, McGranaghan explained how he can interpret mass amounts of data faster and more accurately than ever before. He said there are limits to this, but the results thus far have proven favourable.

However, not all academics agree with McGranaghan’s ideas. One member of the audience even argued with McGranaghan during the question period, arguing that data science is a fundamental change to the field.

McGranaghan responded to the audience member’s claims by saying that data science is “only adding a new technique” to the way scientists work.

“It is really exciting to have this new frontier to work on at the intersection of traditional and data-driven approaches,” he said. “It’s a very exciting time.”

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