Bill Nye Speaks at UCSD for the New Halicioğlu Data Science Institute

UC San Diego hosted a dedication ceremony at the San Diego Supercomputer Center for the new Halicioğlu Data Science Institute on Friday, March 2. The new institute, named after UCSD alumnus and current computer science professor Taner Halicioğlu, who donated $75 million towards its creation, will serve as a cross-disciplinary hub for students, faculty, and researchers interested in learning about and applying data science to their careers.

The dedication ceremony opened with comments from Chancellor Pradeep Khosla about the vision for the institute.

“If there’s one thing that can completely join, integrate, and meld everybody and all intellectual disciplines on this campus together, it is data sciences,” Khosla explained during the dedication. “[The institute] belongs to nobody and everybody simultaneously.”

The institute will be co-directed by UCSD computer science professor Rajesh Gupta, who formerly served as the chair of the Computer Science and Engineering Department.  

“The institute is already working with disciplines like mathematics and cognitive science and computer science in offering courses [and minor degrees related to data science],” Gupta said. “Going forward there will be many minors.”

Gupta will be co-directing with Jeffrey Elman, the former dean of the Division of Social Sciences at UCSD, who is currently a professor in the Cognitive Science department.

Following Gupta, was guest speaker Bill Nye, who spoke about his journey as a mechanical engineering graduate, to his career at Boeing, to his media presence and his current job as the CEO of The Planetary Society. He continued to speak about how the Halicioğlu Institute will change the field of data science.

“For centuries what separates science from a great many other disciplines are the observations, the hypotheses, and especially the measurements made by the scientists, researchers, and engineers who are involved in the research,” Nye said. “The Halicioğlu Institute will enable students, researchers, and student researchers to learn to handle more data in a day than Isaac Newton, Nicolaus Copernicus, or Henrietta Leavitt could gather and process in a lifetime.”

Both Gupta and Khosla echoed Nye’s sentiments about the institute as a hub for all students to access data science in statements to the UCSD Guardian.

“There are students that have nothing to do with the computer science major who want to take a computer science course,” Gupta told the Guardian in an earlier interview. “[The computer science and engineering department has] nearly 10 times the students in our classes. 9 out of 10 are there not because they’re required to take that class, but because this is what they want to learn. We’re seeing the same thing in data sciences. If you have curious students in an environment that promotes curiosity, then you must have the scale to satisfy the curiosity.”

The long term plans include expanding the number of lectures, professors, professionals, and mentors across various departments.

Bill Nye went on to share an anecdote about how he witnessed the Earth’s population change from 2 billion people to 3 billion when he was nine years old, and how the population has more than doubled in his lifetime.

“We are standing on a threshold of human history,” Nye said. “There are more humans alive today than all of our ancestors combined. Not only are [humans] a part of nature, we are largely, for better or for worse, in control of nature. This is unique to our time. To do this we will have to learn to handle enormous numbers of numbers. Mountains of measurements, oceans of data, and with this institute in place, UC San Diego is poised to be the world leader in the disciplines required to make it so.”

Students will be able to access the institute at its initial locations in the San Diego Supercomputer Center and at Atkinson Hall. There are plans to establish other hubs throughout the campus in the coming years.