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University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Emerging Analytics Center debuts ‘big data’ resources for Arkansas

UALR Chancellor Joel E. Anderson was joined by Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe on Monday, June 3, to announce an economic and higher education “game changer” − the opening of the new UALR George W. Donaghey Emerging Analytics Center™ (EAC).

The EAC, located on the fourth floor of UALR’s Engineering and Information Technology building, features data visualization systems that are among the first of their kind in the world.

Chancellor Anderson said in the news conference that UALR and its partners in the community are now positioned to conduct cutting-edge research in data-intensive areas, in addition to providing outreach and educational opportunities for students and researchers.

So innovative is the center’s technology, Gov. Beebe quipped one might almost need a degree to comprehend it. To explain the type of resources available, the governor borrowed an oft-used phrase of media for Monday’s big announcement.

“The easy way to understand the technology … is ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’” Beebe said, adding that the bottom line is what the center will do to contribute to economic development in Arkansas.

A number of technologies are integrated for the EAC to serve a diverse group, including partners in business, sciences, health care, education, and engineering. Linked through fiber optics to UALR’s Computational Research Center, the facility includes 35 screens and monitors with more than 50 million pixels offering high definition resolution for both 2D and 3D applications.

The systems at the center, including the EmergiFLEX™ and the Mobile EmergiFLEX™ systems, were custom designed and built for UALR by Mechdyne Corp, a leading provider of visual information technologies headquartered in Marshalltown, Iowa.

Unique features include a massive, 24-screen reconfigurable video wall providing 3D data immersion with additional 3D floor projection; the latest haptic interface technology to “touch” the data with force feedback sensations; and advanced video collaboration tools that include new robotic “telepresence” equipment.

Made possible by a grant of more than $5 million from the George W. Donaghey Foundation, the EAC is led by Dr. Mary L. Good, UALR special advisor to the chancellor for economic development.

The grant provides funding for a full-time, post-doctoral staff member working in data science, two specialized graduate students, and technical and operational support personnel.

Good said that Donaghey Foundation board members understand that advanced data analysis and data visualization are the tools needed now to solve critical problems in all fields.

“The EAC and its potential to positively impact large and small businesses in Arkansas are critical to our state’s economic growth,” she said. “It will give all of us a competitive edge and position us for a bright future in the era of big data.”

According to Good, big data provides the next frontier in discovery, business, and society, as more data is produced, stored, and analyzed. New federal research programs at the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Health, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are aimed at analyzing and using the flood of available information.

The center will build on the faculty expertise and resources of UALR’s diverse academic offerings and research in advanced data science and data analytics, which already include Advanced Computational Research, Information Quality, and Virtual Reality (3-D immersive environments). In addition, there will be a statewide set of activities for education and economic development.

Also on Monday, Grant Tennille, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC), introduced the center’s new Data Science Advisory Board. The board is comprised of regional and national leaders from academia, industry, and government working to provide ongoing input for the center.

The EAC has three development and promotional partnerships: Mechdyne Corporation, HP, and Today’s Office.

A series of corporate and organizational data previews followed the announcement, which was streamed live over the Internet. AEDC, Acxiom, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Southwest Power Pool, and Nabholz Construction Services were among those demonstrating how data visualization can be used to boost businesses in Arkansas.