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Big data is a hot topic of discussion in the world today. Tech companies, government organizations and leading academic institutions continue to compile massive amounts of information that could help solve global challenges. As big data has pioneered new fields from data analytics to data science, the ability to interpret and understand it is increasingly becoming a valuable skill.
Erik Mohlhenrich, a biology teacher at Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science in Princeton, New Jersey, and David Black, science teacher at New Haven School in Spanish Fork, Utah, led a breakout session about big data in the classroom at the 2019 High School Research Teachers Conference. Erik and David shared how they apply big data in their own specialties—bioinformatics and earth sciences—but they also touched on the wider applications.
There are many benefits to using big data. Here are a few Erik and David shared:
One drawback the speakers mentioned was that big data is not always available instantly. Sometimes surveys are commissioned by specific individuals who get free reign of the data before it is released to the public.
Many Society alumni have used big data in their research. For instance, Broadcom MASTERS 2018 winner, Georgia Hutchinson, used NOAA data to design her data-driven dual-axis solar tracker. Similarly, Brian Wu (ISEF 2018-2019) used data collected by the MARVELS Radial Velocity instrument to find undiscovered exoplanets. Using a computer program that compiles data collected by the instrument, Brian determined whether a signal detected from outer space was coming from a star or a planet.
Ultimately, there is more than one way to conduct scientific research. Big data is one tool to consider. While it can be empowering to march out into the field to collect your own water samples, it can be equally satisfying and productive to utilize the valuable data that’s already waiting at your fingertips.
Independence in conducting science research can have many benefits for students.