Panos Pardalos - Paul and Heidi Brown Preeminent Professor in Industrial & Systems Engineering
Big data doesn’t just live in computers. It’s in our power grids and brain scans. It’s in our government records and Facebook timelines. Name just about any aspect of life, and Panos Pardalos can tell you about its data sets. His goal is to help us understand them — and how they change our lives.
As the Paul and Heidi Brown Preeminent Professor in Industrial and Systems Engineering, Pardalos’ work extends from cancer treatment to financial markets. He has used data sets on electrical activity in the brain to predict epileptic seizures, then turned that knowledge toward understanding Parkinson’s.
“We have data from the government, we have data about the weather. We have data about telecommunications,” he says. “The key issue here is how to extract knowledge out of this huge amount of information.”
Pardalos and his students have analyzed how cancer drugs kill tumor cells, how global financial markets are adapting to the rise of the BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia, India and China — and how to prevent widespread power blackouts. The diversity of topics excites him, but also presents one of the biggest challenges of his work.
“Data analysis is one of the most difficult disciplines,” he says. “If it comes from finance, if it comes from medicine, from weather forecasting, you must know something about these areas, too.”
Ideas don’t always come while he’s in the lab. Whatever he’s doing, chances are he’s seeing the data behind the everyday.
“Academics is not an 8-to-5 job,” he says. “You always think about the problems. Always, you find new ideas.”
Every MRI, every weather report, creates data. Extracting knowledge from that data to improve our lives is the job of experts like Panos Pardalos.
Paul and Heidi Brown
Whenever they come back to the University of Florida, engineering alumni Paul and Heidi Brown are struck all over again by the vitality and promise of its students. More than 30 years ago, they were those wide-eyed freshmen starting their adult lives. And because UF provided the foundation for their careers — even their marriage — they wanted to give back.
“In the years I was here in Gainesville in the College of Engineering, I learned so much. It made such a big impact on my life,” Paul says. “It’s been a constant in our lives that is dear to us, and something that we want to help grow and develop.”
Life took them far from Gainesville, with stints in Paris, Shanghai and Hyderabad, India. But wherever they went in the world, they found friends in orange and blue.
“It’s been fun no matter where we go to see Gators in all their gear,” Heidi says. “It’s just an instant bond.”
Through their support of Preeminence, the Browns hope to foster that bond for generations to come.
“Whether you’re from a small town in Florida or an international student coming here, you can be exposed to so many different majors and so many different opportunities,” Heidi says. “It’s a very exciting place for young people to come. We hope that through the chair, they will have professors that will just continue to inspire them and motivate them.”