A computer scientist world-renowned for his work in high performance computing and scientific data mining, Vipin Kumar has played a pioneering role in bringing “Big Data” and earth science together to address one of the grand challenges of our times: understanding the impact of human-induced changes on the Earth and its environment. In June he became one of three faculty members elevated to Regents Professors, the highest faculty rank.
Kumar is using his expertise in “Big Data” to document changes to the global environment from fires, logging, droughts, floods, farming, and other factors. For example, data mining capabilities he developed are key to enabling researchers to monitor global forest cover, a core necessity if agreements to save the world’s forest are to be carried out.
Information gained through this research is expected to change international policy on climate change.
“Preserving forest is one of the cheapest ways of addressing the carbon emission problem,” Kumar says. “And yet, the forests have not been a part of the carbon trading protocol because the quantifiable knowledge about changes in the forest is critical before you can incorporate them into carbon trading.
“If we can monitor forests, we can start paying countries for preserving forests or planting forests, and giving them credit for these actions that are beneficial for the environment.”
Kumar is leading a five-year, $10 million project, “Understanding Climate Change, a multi-institution effort funded by the National Science Foundation’s Expeditions in Computing program geared to pushing the boundaries of computer science research.
Algorithms developed by Kumar's research group allow a large variety of computer simulation software, including software for car crash testing, to run efficiently on highly parallel supercomputers. The algorithms are used in numerous applications, including computer chip design, customer segmentation, social network analysis, and storing large geographic data sets for efficient access.
Kumar has mentored and advised more than 80 graduate students and coedited and cowritten 11 books, including the widely used textbooks Introduction to Parallel Computing and Introduction to Data Mining. Three years ago he received the ACM SIGKSS 2012 Innovation Award, the highest award for technical excellence in the field of knowledge discovery and data mining.