Army lab hosts first Data Science Meetup
December 30, 2016
By Jenna Brady, ARL Public Affairs
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Dec. 20, 2016) -- The U.S. Army Research Laboratory recently hosted its first Data Science Meetup at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
The initial idea for the event was originated by ARL mathematician Matthew Webb and was brought to fruition by an ARL team that included Webb, mathematician Ashley Bomboy, operations research analyst Carolyn Stancoff and mechanical engineer Scott Welling.
Webb's idea for the meetup was spurred by a data-science event he attended in Baltimore several months ago.
"I thought APG could use an event to pull the analytical agencies together and bring awareness to all the awesome data-analysis tools that are being built," Webb said. "I approached other ARL members as well as individuals from the Army Test and Evaluation Command, the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center and the Army Materiel Systems Analysis Activity to see if they would be willing to help get the event started."
More than 100 engineers, scientists, mathematicians and operations research analysts from 11 Army organizations came together over lunch to discuss how to tackle the problem known as "big data." "This initial launch of the Data Science Meetup was so crucial because we recognize the Army as lagging behind private industry in the 'big data' arena," Welling said. "We cannot continue to use traditional methods to analyze large data sets—there's just not enough time or resources."
According to Webb, it all comes down to educating the community on the latest data-science tools and techniques.
"The open-source community and private industry have made an enormous amount of progress in building powerful data-processing and analytical tools," Webb said. "One reason for this has been the 'big data' revolution and massive amount of data being collected by companies—the analytical tools had to change in order to handle the data. The amount of tools that are out there is overwhelming for someone starting out. However, there are many experts in the data-science space at APG who have already done the research and know what tools work best for what problems. The goal is to bring these experts in front of the community and share their knowledge, saving other analysts' time."
Welling echoed Webb's sentiments, stating their goal is to not reinvent the wheel.
"There are enough folks here at APG developing and using the special tools and analytical techniques to extract answers from 'big data' that we thought a forum was necessary to build relationships across post and establish a cadre of subject matter experts, where individual problems could be solved collectively," Welling said. "The 'better mousetrap' may have been developed a few buildings away and we'd never know. We all have the same customer, despite the multitude of agencies we represent: the Soldier."
Starting off the day's events was Tim Potter from AMSAA. Potter presented a briefing titled "Introduction to Data Science and Analytics," which he recently presented at the Army Operations Research Symposium.
This introductory session touched upon the differences between analysis and analytics, as well as the meaning of data science and what it entails.
The second topic was an introduction to the Center for Army Analysis' Data Science Center of Excellence website presented by Lt. Col. Melanie Vinton from the Center for Army Analysis.
Additional organizations that participated in the event included ATEC, the Army Evaluation Center, the Aberdeen Test Center, the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, CERDEC and the Program Executive Office Command Control Communications–Tactical.
"In our case, the Army test, evaluation and analysis communities collect and generate massive amounts of data—from ballistic testing, modeling and simulation inputs and results, radio and communications network performance data, etc.," Welling said. "The data is worthless if we don't act on it and make sound decisions. To act on it requires special tools, techniques and procedures. We can approach the state of the art through this interchange."
For Bomboy, the meetup exceeded her expectations with the amount of energy and excitement that was generated through this networking opportunity that was focused on one of the most currently sought-after fields in the analytic community.
"We have so much to learn from each other," Bomboy said. "I hope that everyone who comes to these events takes their new knowledge and can apply it within their own organization, creating innovative modeling, efficiency and consistency across the Army science and technology community."
Moving forward, the meetups will occur on a monthly basis to build upon the foundational success of the initial gathering which, according to Stancoff, is promising for not only the event itself, but for the data-science community as a whole.
"I'm excited that there are so many interested people in the APG area," Stancoff said. "There are so many different programs and techniques that no one person can be an expert in all of them. Hopefully, we can bring together the people who know with those who want to learn. I hope that the APG community of data producers and users can stay up to date with the latest and greatest technologies and methodologies."
The U.S. Army Research Laboratory is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.