Press Release: UCLA-led Research into Big Data among First Recipients of New UC President Research Awards

Experts in computer, social and health sciences to study how to use social media data to address public health, poverty and inequality.

A team of researchers led by UCLA professor Sean Young is among the first of five recipients of a new University of California research grant intended to spur discoveries with direct societal impacts.

Young, an assistant professor of family medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and co-director of the Center for Digital Behavior at UCLA, will lead a group of experts in computer, social and health sciences from four UC campuses to study how to use social media data to address public health, poverty and inequality. Young has studied, among other topics, how social media can track HIV incidence.

The $300,000 award will be used to help establish a UC Social Big Data Institute that unites the scholarship of researchers at UCLA, UC Santa Cruz, UC San Diego and UC Irvine who are studying Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels.

The awards are part of the new President’s Research Catalyst Awards Initiative. The initiative aims to stimulate research and discovery in areas that benefit California and the world, like sustainability and climate, food and nutrition, equity and social justice, education innovation, and health care.

“These awards will spur groundbreaking UC research and offer our faculty and students new opportunities for cross-campus, multi-disciplinary collaboration,” UC President Janet Napolitano said in announcing the program. “We want to support research endeavors that have real-world impact in areas with critical needs.”

The Catalyst Awards will strengthen UC’s research enterprise by promoting projects that take advantage of the shared facilities, expertise and economies of scale available through UC’s 10 campuses and five medical centers, Napolitano said. Faculty will benefit from expanded research support, and students will have access to valuable training opportunities.

Napolitano awarded a total of $3 million to five “exemplar” proposals out of 186 that were submitted through the highly selective Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives grants process.

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