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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Rensselaer Data Project Addresses Childhood Stunting in Developing Nations

December 6, 2016

Rensselaer Data Project Addresses Childhood Stunting in Developing Nations

Support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will lead to interactive data visualization platform

Troy, N.Y.—Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has received a grant of $993,384 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for continuing work on a novel data visualization platform that will harness and accelerate the analysis of vast amounts of data for the foundation’s Healthy Birth, Growth, and Development Knowledge Integration initiative.  

This grant brings total giving from the foundation to Rensselaer over the course of this project to more than $1,357,000.

The Healthy Birth, Growth, and Development Knowledge Integration (HBGDki) initiative aims to facilitate collaboration between researchers, quantitative experts, and policy makers in the search to identify the root causes and best solutions for addressing the serious problem of childhood stunting in developing nations.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), more than a quarter of children under age 5 worldwide are permanently “stunted” due to malnutrition and other factors that are still poorly understood. Impaired growth and development are complex, multidisciplinary problems that involve diverse issues including nutritional deficiencies, environmental exposures, infectious diseases, water, and sanitation conditions.

The goal of HBGDki is to enable broader impact of insights, through the integration of multidisciplinary data from past and ongoing studies, to identify the most effective intervention packages for promoting healthy birth, growth, and development in vulnerable populations.

“We welcome this additional support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to address a pressing worldwide challenge,” said Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson. “With the first phase of the project successfully completed, Rensselaer researchers and data scientists will now employ their extensive expertise and innovative technologies to develop a data visualization platform that will greatly enhance the effort to improve child health worldwide.”  

Rensselaer researchers used the initial grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2015 to develop a semantic support framework for HBGDki data that would guide integration of relevant data to support a wide range of analyses and predictive modeling activities.

The current phase of the project will unite various data and exploration initiatives into a Visual Data Analytics Dashboard Framework to accelerate complex data analytics, facilitate discovery, and clearly communicate data to a wide variety of users.

Currently there are no data analytics platforms that can deliver simultaneous visualizations in a dashboard format for the range of data being collected by the Gates Healthy Birth, Growth, and Development Knowledge Integration initiative. This project will deliver a first-of-its-kind interactive data visualization web interface containing a full range of visual tools and search methods to enable intuitive searches by an array of stakeholders. The framework will serve both data providers and data analysts who will be able to search through vast amounts of data and studies.

“Partnering with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is critical to solving global issues,” said Graig Eastin, vice president for institute advancement. “We are proud to be part of this important project.”

Anna Dyson, professor of architecture and director of the Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (CASE), is principal investigator on this phase of the project.

“The Data Journey (DJ) visualization platform will support the sharing and analysis of complex and diverse data by extended collaborative teams by allowing for quick comparison of multiple perspectives to facilitate unanticipated insights,” said Dyson. CASE is partnering with Rensselaer researchers from the Tetherless World Constellation and across campus on the development of the DJ platform.

The collaboration between Rensselaer and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation exemplifies The New Polytechnic, an emerging paradigm for teaching, learning, and research at Rensselaer. The New Polytechnic emphasizes and supports collaboration across disciplines, sectors, and regions to address the great global challenges of our day, using the most advanced tools and technologies, many of which are developed at Rensselaer.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is America’s first technological research university. For nearly 200 years, Rensselaer has been defining the scientific and technological advances of our world. Rensselaer faculty and alumni represent 84 members of the National Academy of Engineering, 17 members of the National Academy of Science, 25 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 8 members of the Institute of Medicine, 7 members of the National Academy of Inventors, and 4 members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, as well as a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With 7,000 students and nearly 100,000 living alumni, Rensselaer is addressing the global challenges facing the 21st century—to change lives, to advance society, and to change the world. To learn more, go to