Chunk of DPI funds put UI's planned data-sciences hub on fast track


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URBANA — A new data-sciences institute for the Urbana-Champaign campus could be funded through state money allocated to the University of Illinois for the proposed Discovery Partners Institute and its statewide innovation network.

The campus announced today that Illini Hall, in the heart of Campustown, will be replaced with a state-of-the-art classroom and research facility focused on statistics, data analysis and machine learning, as part of the Illinois Innovation Network anchored by DPI in Chicago.

The UI Research Park in Champaign will also be expanded, with funding amounts to be announced later, UI officials said today.

The UI system has received a $500 million state capital appropriation to build DPI in downtown Chicago’s South Loop and establish other hubs across the state in Urbana, Springfield and other university communities.

Chancellor Robert Jones announced the project at a campus forum at 3:30 p.m. today at the Illini Union. He said the university will also invest $10 million over five years in the campus’s computing infrastructure and $10 million to hire faculty across campus in data sciences.

Illini Hall, on the corner of Wright and John streets, is home to the UI Department of Statistics. A renovation of the 111-year-old building has been planned as part of a broader renovation of Altgeld Hall, a $90 million project.

The 50,000-square-foot building will be replaced with a larger 60,000- to 80,000-square-foot building, UI officials said.

President Tim Killeen told legislators Tuesday that data sciences would be one focus of the DPI hub at the Urbana campus, though not the only one.

Jones announced plans last fall for a new data-sciences institute, designed to cement the UI’s leadership on the "big data." A strategic-planning task force led by several campus deans made a similar recommendation earlier this year, following a yearlong study involving faculty across campus.

Akin to the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology or the Institute for Genomic Biology, it would pull together data scientists and other experts across campus to tackle advanced analytics.

Data is a strength at the UI, home to the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, the top-ranked School of Information Sciences and the Blue Waters supercomputer.

Illini Hall was built in 1907 as the home for the University YMCA. In 1919, it became the Illini Union, before the current union opened in 1949. Over the years it has also housed The Daily Illini, the Police Training Institute and a speech-research program, according to "UI Histories" site by the UI Library.

As planned, DPI and the Illinois Innovation Network are designed to connect researchers, faculty and students with entrepreneurs and private industry to spur innovation, focusing on computer science, health care, and food and agriculture. UI officials envision a system of research centers across the state, tailored to meet the needs of individual regions.

On Tuesday, officials announced the first major "hub" for the innovation network at the UI Springfield. Under a new agreement, Innovate Springfield, a downtown innovation and business incubator, will become part of the UI Springfield and receive $1.5 million in funding from the UI and community partners in Springfield over three years to expand programs supporting startup businesses, entrepreneurs and innovation.


Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).

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