UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — How does science work? What are the fundamental mechanisms underlying the scientific enterprise and to what degree can we understand and even predict science? Can we approach these questions from a data-driven perspective? These are questions Dashun Wang, assistant professor of information sciences and technology (IST) at Penn State, hopes his research will answer.
Wang has been awarded a Young Investigator Research Program (YIP) grant through the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR). His winning research proposal, "Modeling and Predicting Individual Scientific Impact," was submitted in early fall 2015 and chosen from among 265 proposals submitted by scientists and engineers who have received a Ph.D. or equivalent degree in the past five years. It was one of 56 grants awarded a total of $20.6 million by the AFOSR this year.
Wang’s research focuses on what is often termed “the science of science,” or the study of quantitative patterns obtained from modeling and data-driven metrics to understand how science works. Using the massive amounts of data that scientific studies produce, Wang’s research is asking what a deep knowledge of data can tell us about the business of science.
“Ultimately, this research not only helps further our fundamental understanding of complex interconnected systems, it will also be useful for administrators and policy and decision makers, to help set priorities and make more informed decisions. In terms of research, we are at the threshold of new and exciting work these past few years,” said Wang.
Because scientific research typically accounts for approximately 2 to 3 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in any country, and because studies suggest there is no higher long-term return on investment than that from investing in science, Wang said the interest in better understanding scientific trends has never been more important.
“If we want to utilize these scientific metrics, or trends, then we must understand what they are, what they tell us, and what they do not tell us,” said Wang. “Not only scientists, but all kinds of consumers -- decision makers, policymakers and program directors -- are interested in this information, so that they can better understand what to fund, who is the person for a project, and what is the potential and best fit for the project."
Wang, who said that his research was the result of a team effort made possible by the support of various faculty and mentors in the College of IST, was thrilled to be selected for the grant, acknowledging that the peer review selection process gave him encouragement to pursue his research and will provide more visibility to the University and to his research.
According to the AFOSR, winning grant proposals were chosen by peer review with the objective of fostering creative basic research in science and engineering and enhancing early career development of outstanding young investigators.
“We’re starting to see that the study of science is a rapidly growing community, and hopefully we’ll highlight the interesting things that can be accomplished within this multi-disciplinary community that I’m proud to be a part of,” said Wang.