I Am Data Science | Benjamin Smarr

Faculty Feature Article Series: I Am Data Science 

 with Assistant Professor, Ben Smarr, Ph.D.

by Trista Sobeck & Bobby Gordon

Benjamin Smarr is an assistant professor at the Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute (HDSI) and the Department of Bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego. He has a background in Biology and Neuroscience and has focused his work on neuroendocrine dynamics and women’s health. Recently, he became the technical lead in a global collaboration with the goal to detect COVID-19 early and predict severity. He is an NIH and NSF award-winner many times over. 

“It’s the wild west and there are plenty of opportunities to dig for gold,” says Ben Smarr, Ph.D. when referring to the field of data science. And, he has certainly hit the motherlode coming from the fields of medicine and neuroscience. He observed how health-AI was emerging, and he saw the opportunity to refocus.

“My attention shifted from continuing to make biological discoveries in the same way, to developing methodologies that would let me (and others) embrace larger, more complex time series data. These data have continued to become more available, so I’m glad I did!” he explains.

Ben continues to explain that vast fields of data that are now within view require new management, new methods of inquiry, and really a new type of science to enable the biomedical discoveries he’s been interested in. This is what data science means to him.

Another aspect of Ben’s passion for data science and wanting to know more comes from his desire to leave a positive impact for the public that supports research at UC San Diego.

Recently, he has been researching COVID-detection algorithms using wearable devices. “We need to understand the ways in which dynamics like sleep and daily rhythms differ by person, condition, demographics, etc. so that algorithms can be appropriately conditioned by those differences to allow precision across diverse populations.”

He continues to explain that health is deeply personal. “In health and related sciences, it’s not enough to see that an algorithm seems to work. You need to know why, and to know when it might fail, because the subject is people’s real lives,” he says.

Find out more about Dr. Ben Smarr’s work by visiting the UC San Diego Smarr Lab website. You can see some of his projects, including COVID-19, women’s health, and pursuing new ways to map diversity.

Connect with Benjamin Smarr’s HDSI/UC San Diego profile: https://datascience.ucsd.edu/directory/name/benjamin-smarr/