Skip to main content

ASU launches School of Computing and Informatics


September 28, 2006

School advances new scientific frontiers

ASU’s new School of Computing and Informatics will address key educational and technological needs, by providing a sound basis in informatics to students and advancing the field through research.

But what sets informatics apart from other scientific fields is the central role it plays in other fields. Because data collection, integration and interpretation is so important to almost any field – from business to medicine to the arts – the rate at which those fields advance very well could hinge on the rate at which informatics is applied to them, according to Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, director of the new school.

“This school will be advancing the frontiers of computing and informatics – fields that will have a tremendous impact on almost every aspect of society,” Panchanathan says.

ASU President Michael Crow and Panchanathan are playing host to a symposium and launch celebration for the new school Sept. 29 at ASU’s Tempe campus. The school is part of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering.

“The School of Computing and Informatics is a major step for ASU’s evolution in this critically important area of innovation,” Crow says. “It’s a response to the increasingly important role that the acquisition, evaluation and utilization of massive amounts of data play in many aspects of modern life.”

As an example, Crow points to the field of biomedical informatics and what it could mean for medicine as a whole.

“The application of informatics and computing to bioscience will enable physicians and other health-care practitioners to replace ‘off-the-shelf’ medical treatments with courses of treatment customized for the individual patient,” he says.

Almost every field of science, business, arts, medicine, education and social sciences rely on informatics to interface with the vast amounts of data and information generated within their disciplines. A strong foundation in informatics, therefore, is critical to use the relevant information to further advance their fields.

“Much as English was a required language in the 17th century and mathematics was a required skill in the 19th century for engineering and the sciences, informatics will be an essential skill for every person in the 21st century,” Panchanathan says. “This is the transformative power of informatics.”

Informatics literacy

The rapidly emerging field of informatics transcends computer literacy.

“Computer literacy is about knowing how to get a computer to do the things you want it to do,” Panchanathan says, while informatics literacy is about how to effectively and efficiently use the information that is provided to us.

In the case of computer-generated information, it is about locating, accessing, managing, storing, recalling and effectively using vast amounts of data.

Informaticians also understand how to better interpret, analyze, model and present data. In essence, informatics literacy provides the tools to help us cope in a world of increasing information overload.

These “information fusion” capabilities are becoming increasingly essential to economic competitiveness, scientific and medical advances, and social and cultural progress.

“Companies such as Intel, IBM and Google already are employing not just computer scientists and software engineers, but also researchers who have discipline knowledge coupled with informatics competency,” Panchanathan says.

The new ASU school will incorporate the existing computer science and engineering department, along with the Center for Health Information and Research and the new biomedical informatics department – a collaboration with the University of Arizona and linked with the UA College of Medicine Phoenix program at the new Phoenix Biomedical Campus.

Students will be able to major in computing and informatics, choose it as a minor area of study or get basic training through a certificate program. These options are designed to encourage students to combine informatics education with studies in every field, whether it is archaeology, biology, literature or music, or other disciplines.

The school will pursue informatics education and research in partnership with other ASU units, including the arts, media and engineering program, the School of Human Evolution & Social Change, the School of Life Sciences, the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, the Department of Psychology, the Biodesign Institute, the Global Institute for Sustainability, the W. P. Carey School of Business, the College of Nursing & Health Care Innovation, the School of Earth and Space Exploration, and the Center for Law, Science and Technology.

Eventually, the goal is to promote informatics literacy and competency within all of the disciplines offered at ASU, Panchanathan says.

“Students should not be apprehensive that informatics is something only for people who are good in math and sciences,” he says. “This is an exciting field with great career and entrepreneurial opportunities, and it can be applied to everything. We want ASU to be a national model for broad-based infusion of informatics education throughout a university system.”