CEO of the Planetary Society and famed science educator Bill Nye the Science Guy spoke to more than 100 people at the dedication for the Halicioglu Data Science Institute (HDSI).
The dedication, held at the UC San Diego Supercomputer Center, received enthusiastic fanfare from local technology industry leaders and members of the La Jolla community on a warm winter day. However, due to Nye’s limited time, no public event with Nye was held for students after the dedication.
In addition to Nye, speakers included UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla, San Diego City Councilwoman Barbara Bry, HDSI Co-Directors Rajesh Gupta and Jeffrey Elman, Microsoft Vice President Peter Lee, and UCSD Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Elizabeth Simmons.
The purpose of the HDSI is to foster and create an institute that is at the cutting-edge of data science, a multidisciplinary field that creates insights from data and draws from mathematics, statistics, medicine, biology, information science, and computer science. The creation of the institute was made possible by a $75 million donation from UCSD Computer Science alumnus Taner Halicioglu, Facebook’s first employee and a current lecturer in the UCSD Department of Computer Science and Engineering. The donation is the largest that the university has ever received from an alumnus.
Chancellor Pradeep Khosla commenced the dedication by first speaking about his belief in the power of data science.
“Data science will define the future and change the world around us,” Khosla said. “It is the glue that binds us together, and it will save and improve lives. The HDSI belongs to no one and everyone simultaneously. It will transform campus.”
Khosla then spoke about Halicioglu, describing him as an atypical donor.
“Not the guy you’d expect to see,” he said of Halicioglu. “He doesn’t have white hair and doesn’t wear three-piece suits,” Khosla said. “He graduated from UCSD in 1996. Tanner will always wear shorts even in 50-degree weather!”
Following a brief description of Halicioglu, Khosla made way for a five-minute video created by Dr. Gupta, one of HDSI’s Co-Directors, that aimed to highlight the importance of data: how data shapes our beliefs and preferences, how data is everything, and how data allows for the study of large global trends on a scale never seen before. Dr. Gupta spoke succinctly, emphasizing the points from the video, before he excitedly introduced, “The guy you all came to see, Bill Nye, CEO of Planetary Society.”
Nye began his speech not with science but rather with humor, claiming that his “Turkish is bad, but my Armenian is even worse,” after trying to correctly pronounce Mr. Halicioglu’s name. He then went on to describe the donation as an amazing gift that will have outstanding global reach and influence, as well as emphasizing the importance of investing in public education and public institutes like the HDSI by declaring UCSD to be a world class university and a world class state university.
“As a Californian, I believe in the value of public education and that such investment improves the quality of all our lives,” Nye said. “We have more data in one day than either Isaac Newton or Henrietta Lacks had during their entire lifetimes. We need data science now more than ever!”