Data Driven Discoveries in Science: The Fourth Paradigm

Alexander Szalay
Department of Physics and Astronomy, Johns Hopkins University, USA

Abstract: The talk will describe how science is changing as a result of the vast amounts of data we are collecting from gene sequencers to telescopes and supercomputers. This “Fourth Paradigm of Science”, predicted by Jim Gray, is moving at full speed, and is transforming one scientific area after another. The talk will present various examples on the similarities of the emerging new challenges and how this vision is realized by the scientific community. Scientists are increasingly limited by their ability to analyze the large amounts of complex data available. These data sets are generated not only by instruments but also computational experiments; the sizes of the largest numerical simulations are on par with data collected by instruments, crossing the petabyte threshold this year. The importance of large synthetic data sets is increasingly important, as scientists compare their experiments to reference simulations. All disciplines need a new “instrument for data” that can deal not only with large data sets but the cross product of large and diverse data sets. There are several multi-faceted challenges related to this conversion, e.g. how to move, visualize, analyze and in general interact with Petabytes of data.

About the speaker: Alexander Sándor Szalay is the Alumni Centennial Professor of Astronomy at the Johns Hopkins University, Professor in the Department of Computer Science, and Director of the Institute for Data Intensive Science. He is a cosmologist who has made significant contributions to the understanding on statistical measures of the spatial distribution of galaxies, galaxy formation and on the nature of the dark matter in the universe.

Szalay graduated as a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics in 1969 from Kossuth University in Hungary. Then he received a Master of Science in Theoretical Physics in 1972 and a Ph.D in Astrophysics in 1975 from the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. During this period, from 1974–1982, Szalay also played guitar in the Hungarian rock band Panta Rhei. After graduation, Szalay spent postdoctoral periods at the University of California, Berkeley, University of Chicago, and Fermilab, before accepting an assistant professorship at Eötvös Loránd University in 1982. After rising to the rank of full professor at Eötvös, he joined Johns Hopkins University in 1989. In 2008, he became Doctor Honoris Causa of the Eötvös Loránd University and in March 2015, Szalay was named a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University for his accomplishments as an interdisciplinary researcher and excellence in teaching.

Among the awards he has received are: In 1990, Szalay was elected to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences as a Corresponding Member and awarded the E.W. Fullam Prize of the Dudley Observatory. The following year, he received Hungary’s Széchenyi Prize, which recognizes “those who have made an outstanding contribution to academic life in Hungary.” Szalay was recognized in recognition for his “foundational contributions to interdisciplinary advances in the field of astronomy and groundbreaking work with Jim Gray.” The IEEE Computer Society awarded Szalay with the 2015 Sidney Fernbach Award for "his outstanding contributions to the development of data-intensive computing systems and on the application of such systems in many scientific areas including astrophysics, turbulence, and genomics.”

He has written over 600 papers in various scientific journals, covering areas from theoretical cosmology to observational astronomy, spatial statistics and computer science, and more recently turbulence, environmental science and genomics. Szalay has more than 67,000 citations in Google Scholar and an h-index of 95.
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