Two more research clusters host kickoff meetings

East Carolina University faculty members from several academic disciplines took part in two research cluster kickoff meetings on Feb. 14.

The marine and coastal and the big data and analytic research clusters held their first meetings with faculty and staff, introducing the clusters to possible participants.

Departments represented at the events included geology, economics, engineering, anthropology, biology, computer science, business, and public health.

Last fall, ECU launched seven university-wide research clusters, with an eighth planned later this year Research clusters are part of a formal university strategy to connect interdisciplinary faculty and researchers who might not have connected through traditional means.

With the clusters, faculty from across ECU can harness their partnerships and talent to advance Chancellor Cecil Staton’s Rural Prosperity Initiative and address pressing human health, education and economic disparities in our region and around the globe. The research clusters are the vision of Vice Chancellor Jay Golden and are supported by the Division of Research, Economic Development and Engagement.

Marine and coastal research cluster

Reide Corbett and David Griffith, co-directors of the marine and coastal research cluster, said the cluster’s mission is to facilitate interdisciplinary scientific exploration, discovery and education across coastal and marine systems.

The cluster’s initial focus is on three broad areas – continental margin resources including non-renewable and renewable energy, cultural resources and biological resources; natural hazards including storms, saltwater intrusion and human vulnerability; and marine and coastal health including environmental and human health, health disparities and toxicology.

“Marine and coastal science has always been an area of strength at ECU, in both research and education,” Corbett said. “The university has set itself apart from other programs by effectively melding social and natural sciences focused on coastal issues.  This cluster intends to capitalize on this strength with plans to further expand our research footprint across campus to include engineering, health sciences, tourism and hospitality.”

Corbett stressed during the meeting that the group was looking to go beyond its strategic plan, locate common interests among faculty and bring in new research projects and grants to expand ECU’s research portfolio. Those in attendance were encouraged to contact other faculty members who may have an interest in participating.

Big data and analytics research cluster

Elsewhere, 13 faculty members kicked off the big data and analytics research cluster, which this year will focus on creating a “decision theater” in Laupus Library that will serve as a collision space for topics around health care and bioproducts, said cluster co-director Len Annetta, a mast and science instruction professor in the College of Education.

Big data – extremely large data sets that can be analyzed to reveal patterns, trends and associations relating to human behavior – has become vital in decision making and economic investment.

Huigang Liang of the College of Business is the other co-director.

The university recently announced a partnership with analytics leader SAS to help address economic, health and educational disparities in rural areas as part of the Rural Prosperity Initiative.

The big data and analytics research cluster will help in that initiative while also leading the charge for new uses of data on campus. The cluster will examine how to source, secure, share, store and manage data for faculty members and staff.

The research cluster also plans to use its data-crunching abilities as a resource to create new companies and jobs in eastern North Carolina.

ECU also has launched clusters for health behavior, energy and natural resources, human health and disease, precision health, and STEAM education. The university will launch its biomedical sciences and engineering research cluster by the fall.