‘Big data’ driving scientific revolution

Raw data on everything from genes to purchasing behaviors can now be collected, stored, and crunched at rates unimaginable just a few years ago. But mining this potential goldmine for scientific research can be a daunting task.

Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and across the University are developing new and improved methods to harness this “big data.” An article in the March/April 2014 issue of Harvard Magazine highlighted some of their efforts.

Nathan Eagle, adjunct assistant professor, works on engineering computational tools to explore how data generated about human movements, financial transactions, and communication patterns can be used for social good.

John Quackenbush, professor of computational biology and bioinformatics, is leading the development of HSPH’s new master’s program in computational biology and quantitative genetics, which is designed to address the extraordinary complexity of biomedical data.

Curtis Huttenhower, associate professor of computational biology and bioinformatics, has been instrumental in identifying and analyzing the vast human “microbiome”—the more than five million microbial genes that exist inside the human body.

Dean Julio Frenk saw the importance of big data during his previous role as Mexico’s minister of health. When he oversaw implementation of that country’s universal health insurance program, he made sure that an evaluation requirement was included in the law.

“My entire career has been guided by the fundamental belief that scientifically derived evidence is the most powerful instrument we have to design enlightened policy and produce a positive social transformation,” he told Harvard Magazine.

Read Why “Big Data” Is a Big Deal (Harvard Magazine)

Learn more

The promise of big data (Harvard Public Health)

Mobilizing a revolution: How cellphones are transforming public health (Harvard Public Health)