What do Amazon, Facebook, global warming and the Fukushima Daiichi accident have in common?

All are changing due to big data analytics.

Today at 5 p.m., Dimitri Kusnezov will explore this issue in a lecture titled "Computation and Science Policy" at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy.

As Chief Scientist for the National Nuclear Security Administration, Kusnezov will discuss the intersection between science and public policy and what the future will hold for the field.

Big data analytics, the analysis and investigation of information – sometimes on the scale of exabytes, or 1 billion gigabytes – is an emerging field in science, specifically in regard to running complex computer simulations and analyzing large amounts of user information.

Howard Hall, director of UT's Institute for Nuclear Security and the UT-ORNL governor's chair professor for nuclear engineering, said he is looking forward to the lecture, as it will offer a perspective on policy that accounts for science.

As an example, Hall pointed out global warming and its effects on the environment as an area in which high performance computing can work with and hopefully advance public policy.

"Anything along the lines of how affected they are, how expensive they are, are they sustainable, things like that," Hall said.

As technology enables scientists to better analyze and store massive quantities of data, it opens the door for numerous methods of research. With the terabytes and exabytes of information available to analyze, new understandings of the world will perhaps allow policymakers to make more knowledgeable choices, Hall said.

"It really does require the intersection of computational science, which tends to be a very discrete, math-oriented field of study, with a much fuzzier, harder to quantify politics of human behavior," he said.

Hall notes that big data analytics is already far more relevant to everyday life than many realize. In online advertising, high performance computing and big data analytics are used to predict buying habits and produce targeted ads for consumers.

"You've probably noted that if you're searching for something on Amazon and you hop on Facebook, (you) suddenly see an ad for it on Facebook. Well, those are some of the examples of what the commercial sector is doing.

"To some extent, no matter who you are, you're already being judged by that," he said.

As Chief Scientist for the NNSA, Kusnezov boasts much experience with the practical side of nuclear power but will discuss how to use science, specifically big data, to better inform those who make decisions.

Kevin Nolan, senior in computer science and jazz studies, will be attending Kusnezov's lecture due to the large ramifications of big data, not only in scientific research, but also as an acknowledgement of its immense implications for public policy.

"A lot of large organizations and government entities are using their big databases they have of customers and citizens and make predictions on that and can identify trends," Nolan said. "It's a new field, and it's a growing field, and a lot of the frontiers haven't been defined yet. ... Up until recently it was unfeasible to do a lot of the things regarding big data that are possible now."