‘Big data’ research gets boost from National Science Foundation


Angie Laird reviews brain scans with students from her Neuroinformatics and Brain Connectivity Lab.


FIU physicist Angie Laird is leading a team of researchers embarking on a new phase of the National Science Foundation’s BRAIN Initiative.

NSF has awarded 18 grants totaling $17 million to multidisciplinary teams from across the United States to conduct frontier research focused on neural and cognitive systems. Laird’s project, titled the Automated Text Harvesting and Exploration of Neuroimaging Annotations (ATHENA) Resource, is designed to allow enhanced access to cognitive neuroscience knowledge that is currently locked in journal text.

“A number of important neuroinformatics resources already exist, including neuroimaging data repositories, crowd-sourcing knowledge-bases, standardized ontologies and terminologies, and meta-analytic repositories,” Laird said. “However, there is little interaction and limited sharing of knowledge across platforms. This project will develop algorithms and approaches for more efficient knowledge extraction from the cognitive neuroimaging literature.”

As scientific research moves into a new era emphasizing the ability to duplicate entire experiments, accuracy of repeated trials and ease of data sharing, there is an increased need for “big data” methods of discovery — those that transcend traditional data processing applications.

The ultimate goal of the project is to provide efficient data sharing. For neuroscience, the ATHENA Resource is designed to facilitate more informed, evidence-based neurocognitive models of brain function that can easily be duplicated.

“By encouraging collaborations among investigators from different disciplines, we were able to fund innovative, integrative, boundary-crossing proposals that can best capture the spirit of this opportunity,” said Alexander Leonessa, NSF program director in the Engineering Directorate.

The ATHENA Resource is a collaboration between Laird and Jessica Turner, a psychologist at Georgia State University.