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Even Data Is Bigger In Texas: Texas A&M To Explore Power Of Big Data At SXSW

March 11, 2017

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What is Big Data and why is it so vital to modern society? Imagine you’re tasked with finding just three grains of blue sand on a mile-long beach. That’s what Big Data does – it allows us to sort through unimaginable amounts of information to find exactly what we’re looking for. Texas A&M University will explore the future of Big Data with an interactive display and discussion at South By Southwest (SXSW).

For the first time ever, Texas A&M will be participating at the SXSW Festival and Conference in Austin during Interactive Week, March 10-15, showcasing the innovative work happening at the tier-one research institution. The university will present both at Hotel Van Zandt and at the Austin Convention Center.

SXSW is historically known for bringing together global professionals, brands and cutting-edge vendors from a diverse group of industries, and Texas A&M is one of just a handful of universities showcasing during Interactive Week.

Live demonstrations on the Big Data interactive display will take place at Hotel Van Zandt Saturday-Monday; the researchers will be on hand to present on Tuesday from 11 a.m.-12 p.m. in the hotel’s Lady Bird Ballroom. Presenters will include Dr. Laura Mandell, director of the Initiative for Digital Humanities at Texas A&M; Dr. Casey Papovich, professor of Physics and Astronomy at Texas A&M; and Dr. Toniesha Taylor, professor of communication at Prairie View A&M University.

The interactive display will feature a high-definition multi-taction wall that will have interactive content based on data mining, digital humanities and even the whole universe.

In her presentation, Mandell will display a program she developed, Big Data Infrastructure Visualization Application (BigDIVA), a web-based search-and-discovery service for humanities scholars to easily access materials once 1,000 miles away with a few clicks. “From rare books to letters from renowned authors, this program developed at Texas A&M allows researchers to access high-quality digital media from libraries and archives from around the world,” said Mandell.

Papovich will discuss how Big Data is being used to further our understanding of the universe. Astronomical datasets are astronomical in size. Images taken with the largest telescopes, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, produce enormous amounts of data. A single image can contain objects spanning a range of distances stretching back to the Big Bang. Papovich will demonstrate how using such data, astronomers have come to understand how galaxies like our own Milky Way form and evolve over billions of years, and what the future holds as the next generation of astronomical datasets is producing data at even more alarming rates.

And Taylor will show how Big Data can allow us to understand real-time audience responses to public discourse. Communication scholars are collecting vast amounts of communications, such as social media responses to speeches from a global cross-section of people. This manner of studying rhetoric is producing an understanding of mass audience response as never before possible. “Future readers will be able to understand levels of engagement with politics, literature, film, arts and the entirety of creative human knowledge in whole new ways by reading Tweets, memes, and photos on Instagram or studying patterns of engagement on Facebook,” Taylor said.

For more on Texas A&M’s SXSW activities, including a full list of live demonstrations times, visit

For more on SXSW, visit

About Texas A&M University: Texas A&M, established in 1876 as the first public university in Texas, is one of the nation’s largest universities with more than 66,000 students and more than 440,000 living alumni residing in over 150 countries around the world. A tier-one university, Texas A&M holds the rare triple land-, sea- and space-grant designation. Research conducted at Texas A&M represented annual expenditures of more than $892.7 million in fiscal year 2016. Texas A&M’s research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting, in many cases, in economic benefits to the state, nation and world. The school’s Lead by Example campaign is a comprehensive effort to raise $4 billion by the year 2020, making it the largest higher education campaign in Texas history and the second largest conducted nationally by a public university. Aggies are known for their deep commitment to the success of each other and a strong desire to serve.

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