Data science specialist Michael Franklin to lead computer science at UChicago

As part of a plan to greatly increase the scale, scope and impact of computer science research and education across the University community, the University of Chicago has appointed prominent data science scholar Michael Franklin to chair its Department of Computer Science and to serve as senior advisor to the provost on computation and data science.

Franklin will provide leadership for a major expansion in faculty, education programs and scientific directions of the computer science department, building upon ongoing data science projects and catalyzing the development of new collaborations within the University and with partners outside the University. Within UChicago these opportunities include the application of computation to biomedical sciences, the physical sciences, social science, applied social sciences and public policy; the Institute for Molecular Engineering, and the Computational and Applied Mathematics Initiative.

Data science is an expanding area of research among the University’s affiliated institutions, including Argonne National Laboratory, the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., and the campus-based Toyota Technological Institute of Chicago. The University also is exploring new opportunities for innovation in data science, in collaboration with entrepreneurial and industrial partners across the region.

Franklin is ideally suited to lead these efforts, with more than 30 years of experience in the fields of database, data analytics, data management fields and distributed systems as an academic and industrial researcher, laboratory director, faculty member, entrepreneur and software developer. He is currently the Thomas M. Siebel Professor of Computer Science and chair of the Computer Science Division of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley. He directs Berkeley’s Algorithms, Machines and People Laboratory (AMPLab), a leading academic big data analytics research center, and serves as an executive committee member for the Berkeley Institute for Data Science, a campus-wide initiative to advance data science environments.

“Computation in its multiple forms continues to emerge as a powerful intellectual discipline and is increasingly essential for many new opportunities in research, education and impact across a wide range of fields. It has likewise become a key driver of entrepreneurial innovation,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “Mike’s outstanding scholarly work, his applied experience, his record of leadership and the ambition he brings make him a perfect fit for this new role. He will be a powerful advocate for computer science across disciplines within and beyond the University.”

“Mike’s appointment as chair and senior advisor to the provost on computation and data science reflects our commitment to sustain an ambitious, University-wide approach to computation and data science, which is increasingly critical for many disciplines,” said Provost Eric D. Isaacs. "His vision and broad experiences in research, education and innovation will help shape the University’s directions in computation and data science in the years ahead.”

Data science has become an integral part of innovation at universities and in other areas of society, Franklin said.

“UChicago is uniquely positioned to take a leadership role in the emerging computational and data-driven world, due to its broad strengths and excellence across the spectrum of sciences, policy, business and medicine, and in recognizing the importance of collaboration and cross-fertilization across these domains,” he said. “These strengths, combined with its commitment to invest in the continued growth of the computational and data science fields on campus, lead to some truly transformational opportunities.”

An energetic entrepreneur in addition to his academic work, Franklin founded and became chief technology officer of Truviso, a data analytics company later purchased by Cisco Systems. He currently serves on the technical advisory boards of various data-driven technology companies, including Databricks, an AMPLab spinout based on the popular Apache Spark analytics framework that was developed at the lab.

AMPLab, which has 30 active industrial partners, including founding sponsors Amazon Web Services, Google, IBM and SAP, has received a National Science Foundation “Expeditions in Computing” award, which was announced as part of the White House Big Data Research Initiative in 2012. AMPLab has produced industry-changing open source software, including the Berkeley Data Analytics Stack—a set of software tools to help researchers and others make use of big data.

Franklin received his bachelor’s degree in computer and information science from the University of Massachusetts, his master of software engineering from the Wang Institute of Graduate Studies and his PhD in computer science from the University of Wisconsin.

Franklin is a fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery and a two-time recipient of the ACM SIGMOD (Special Interest Group on Management of Data) “Test of Time” award. Among many other honors, he also has received the outstanding advisor award from Berkeley’s Computer Science Graduate Student Association.

The University already has major initiatives underway related to data science, and plans to expand and develop more such activities. Current significant initiatives include:

  • The Computation Institute, a joint effort with Argonne National Laboratory. Under the direction of Ian Foster, the Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor, the institute has effectively undertaken a variety of large-scale computational projects such as Globus, which provides powerful tools that help researchers solve problems involving data-intensive research.
  • The NCI Genomic Data Commons, which will be launched by the National Cancer Institute to store and harmonize genomic data generated through NCI-funded research programs, is being built and will be maintained by the University.
  • The Computational and Applied Mathematics Initiative, launched by the Department of Statistics, brings sophisticated methods to the handling of large data sets in numerous scientific disciplines, including the study of protein dynamics and computational neuroscience.

“Mike Franklin brings the experience and the vision to further grow computer science into one of the top departments in the country, to expand computer science and computational science educational offerings at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and to establish a vital computational culture throughout the University,” said Edward “Rocky” Kolb, dean of the Physical Sciences Division.