The term “big data” is, if you will, a biggie. It is used in business circles, health care fields, political discourse and tech talk.
But for Shaikh Arifuzzaman, assistant professor of computer science at the University of New Orleans, big data is how he works, researches and thinks.
“Data is the heart of any computational problem,” said Arifuzzaman, who joined UNO’s faculty last fall and is building a research program on large-scale data analytics and high performance computing.
Arifuzzaman, a life-long lover of mathematics, discovered his fascination with massive data while he was a graduate student at Virginia Tech. Working in the Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Lab there, he delved deep, researching how to develop algorithmic techniques that would allow quick, easy and relevant analysis of massive amounts of information, revealing detailed connections in everything from social networks to biomedical processes.
“My work is motivated by the unique computational challenges of large-scale data mining,” he said before describing the varied applications for his work, which include a multitude of interdisciplinary opportunities including urban planning, biological and medical research, social science and more. Arifuzzaman’s work provides the tools that enable policymakers, business leaders and others to detect trends, outliers and problems that may otherwise go unseen. His work sets the stage for informed social problem solving.
Arifuzzaman, 31, grew up in Bangladesh, where he learned early he had a knack for logic and understanding mathematical concepts. But his interest was never just getting the answers, he said: “I always asked questions—why and how?”
Arifuzzaman completed his bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology in Dhaka, where he found satisfaction working with his peers to help them understand difficult material, and became intent upon one day becoming a professor—an ambition his father, a high school teacher, encouraged.
“Teaching is the noblest profession,” his father would say.
Arifuzzaman’s work designing novel algorithms and analytical techniques to detect and count the numbers of triangular connections in large networks has received attention in prestigious venues in the high performance computing world. In addition to his work on projects at the Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Lab, he has done work for the Sandia National Labs, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp. that provides national security and technology innovation for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.
In the spring semester at UNO, Arifuzzaman’s teaching load will include a new graduate course in his field of research that he is particularly excited about. He said UNO’s tight-knit academic community has been a great fit, with department leadership that has made him feel welcome and supported as he continues his work researching, designing and delivering the most advanced and effective tools needed to help mine massive amounts of data at once.
“I’m really excited and looking forward to my upcoming days,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s any other profession that would attract me more.”