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What makes the University of Arizona unique?

What makes the Statistics Program unique?

The students in the Statistics Program have two groups of natural colleagues – students in the School of Mathematical Sciences and students in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the College of Public Health. These two academic units are the “first cousins” of the Statistics students and consequently many joint activities, e.g., colloquia and recruitment, are shared among these programs.

The School of Mathematical Sciences consists of the Department of Mathematics, the Graduate Interdisciplinary Program in Applied Mathematics, the Graduate Interdisciplinary Program in Statistics, along with centers and institutes focused on mathematics education and outreach. These units have a long history of uniting students and faculty with common aims in education and research across the campus. The School retains the distinct identities of its component units while extending its reach through collaborations inspired by a vision of mathematics as central to science and society

The University of Arizona has fourteen Graduate Interdisciplinary Programs. Faculty in these Programs are faculty members in their “home” departments who chose, in addition to their regular duties, to participate in the graduate education that crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries.

The Statistics Graduate Interdisciplinary Program currently has 33 faculty members including 16 full Professors, 8 Assistant Professors and 9 Associate Professors.

Membership in the Statistics Program is made of a group of core statisticians. Beyond that, the Program enjoys having its membership extend to include many who engage in a broad spectrum of questions involving data intensive science. This approach is motivated by our mission to provide an environment whereby students become independent researchers and practitioners who make significant contributions at the forefront of knowledge across the disciplines that rely on statistical thinking.

Membership, by College, in the Statistics Program

One major trademark of the University of Arizona is the level of interaction among faculty and students across disciplines and Colleges. This is exemplified in the breadth of reach of the members of the Statistics Program.  A year ago, our members were in 12 academic units – Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering, Communications, Computer Science, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Economics, Epidemiology & Biostatistics, Law, Mathematics, Molecular & Cellular Biology, Renewable Natural Resources, Psychology, and Teaching/Learning & Sociocultural Studies. In the past year, we have added members in Management & Information Systems, Medicine, School of Information, and Systems & Industrial Engineering.


What make the University of Arizona unique?

The University of Arizona is the state of Arizona’s land grant university. It is the home to both a Medical School and a College of Agriculture – two of the traditional centers for innovation in statistics.  Some of the core communities in statistics and data science include

  • Mathematics-Applied Mathematics-Statistics-Computer Sciences-Systems and Industrial Engineering (foundations)
  • Astronomy-Planetary Sciences-Physics (astroinformatics)
  • Evolutionary Biology-Plant Sciences-iPlant (evolutionary genomics)
  • Molecular & Cellular Biology-Medical School-College of Public Health-Genomics Core Facility-BIO5 (medical genomics, health informatics, epidemiology)
  • Ecology-Geography-Geology-Hydrology-Atmospheric Sciences-Tree Ring Lab-Institute for the Environment (environmental sciences)
  • School of Information-Management Information Systems (data management in the social sciences and business)

In the coming decade, the sources of the largest data and most complex data sets could be vastly different than they are at present.  Research universities will by necessity face the fundamental goal of developing the systems and methods that will crunch those data sets and produce meaningful information. We highlight three prominent examples at the University of Arizona are omics data, satellite data on the earth, and telescope data from solar system and deep space. 

Omic data. A decade ago, genetic data often involved Sanger sequencing a few dozen markers on a few dozen individuals. Technological breakthroughs first allowed affordable dense marker arrays on thousands of humans (e.g. GWAS), then brought us the challenges of both high coverage and low coverage whole genome sequences (e.g. 1000 genomes and 1KP projects). We are now moving to the age of metagenomic host-pathogen data. Big data for genetic expression data began with microarray expression and now commonly uses RNA-based next generation sequencing technology (RNASeq). We are now exploring the new technologies that will deliver more reliable and direct measurements of protein expression levels.

Satellite data on the earth.  As early as 1946, plans were under development to use cameras on an orbiting satellite to gather information on the earth. The first weather satellite, Vanguard 2, launched in 1959, was designed to measure cloud cover and resistance. Today, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration through its National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service distributes more than 3.5 billion bits of data and images each and every day. Today's meteorological satellites can be polar orbiting or geostationary. Meteorological satellites now see city lights, fires, effects of pollution, auroras, sand and dust storms, snow cover, ice mapping, boundaries of ocean currents, changes in the Earth's vegetation, atmospheric trace gas content, sea state, ocean color, and energy flows.

Telescope data from solar system and deep space The amount of data available to the astronomy and planetary science community will be greatly increased with the orbiting James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the ground based Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST). To obtain a sense of the amount of data, note that the LSST will produce a 3-gigabyte image every 30 seconds. The nature of gathering information from these images goes beyond the enormous challenges of storage, curation, and access. The inferential methods need to be well connected to the underlying physics supporting the scientific questions and to the complexities of image analysis.

Each of these massive sources of data and the accompanying small data individual projects derived from these and other sources will require new mathematical models, e.g. dynamical systems, networks systems, or stochastic processes, new computational environments, and yet to be developed inferential and data discovery methods in need of solid theoretical underpinnings. We do not know what will transcend commonly used methodologies like data mining, machine learning, and other high dimensional, nonparametric or Bayesian approaches, but we must be prepared. Our statistics program is geared to bringing students in contact with these new approaches.


What make the city of Tucson and the surrounding Sonoran Desert unique?

Tucson, Arizona, in southern Arizona, has a metropolitan population of approximately one million people. Thus, it has all the amenities of a moderate size American city. However, both the physical geography of the Sonoran Desert and the political geography of Tucson’s proximity to Mexico provide many unique opportunities. Some events of note are

  • The Tucson Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Show in February is the largest, oldest and most prestigious gem and mineral show in the world. It takes place in dozens of venues around the city. Almost all of the shows are free.
  • Tucson Festival of Books takes place on the University of Arizona campus during the first weekend of Spring Break in March. The Festival is the fourth largest in the United States, with 450 authors and 80,000 attendees.
  • Tucson Meet Yourself is an annual celebration of the living traditional arts of Southern Arizona's and Northern Mexico's diverse ethnic and folk communities. Each October, the three-day event features hundreds of artisans, home cooks, dancers, musicians and special exhibits that celebrate and honor beauty in all its diverse, informal, and everyday forms.
  • Tucson All Souls Procession takes place on the first Sunday on November and has over 150,000 participants on a two-mile procession of altars, performers, and installation art that ends in the ceremonial burning of a large Urn filled with the hopes, offerings and wishes of the public for those who have passed. The All Souls Procession mirrors the Dia de Los Muertos tradition in Mexico.

Tucson is also the home of the Mission San Xavier del Bac on the Tohono O’odham Nation and the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum next to the western section of the Saguaro National Park. Tucson has very large amateur astronomy community. Every celestial event will have events organized by the Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium on the University of Arizona campus.

The Sonoran Desert has two distinct rainfall seasons - winter storms from the Pacific nourish many West Coast annuals such as poppies and lupines, while well-developed and sometimes intense summer monsoons host both annuals and woody plants like palo verde and mesquite trees as well as a wide variety of cacti and other succulents including the majestic saguaro cactus. The Sonoran Desert is surrounded on all four sides by mountains – the Santa Catalina Mountains to the north, the Rincon Mountains to the east, the Santa Rita Mountains to the south, and the Tucson Mountains to the west. You can learn more by browsing Visit Tucson or exploring the Best of Tucson pages from the Tucson Weekly.

Last updated 30 Aug 2016