UC Santa Cruz hosts summer program on machine learning in astronomy

The Kavli Summer Program in Astrophysics brings together an international group of scientists and students for a six-week program of learning and research

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group photo of students
An international group of students participated in the 2016 Kavli Summer Program in Astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz.

The 2019 Kavli Summer Program in Astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz will focus on "Machine Learning in the Era of Large Astronomical Surveys," bringing together scientists and students from a broad range of backgrounds to learn about machine learning techniques and their applications in astronomy.

The Kavli Summer Program in Astrophysics combines the concept of a long-term workshop with graduate student training through research projects. Up to 15 established faculty, 15 post-doctoral researchers, and 15 graduate students come from around the world to join local scientists at the host institution for the six-week program, which alternates between UC Santa Cruz and various institutions world-wide.

The program begins with a one-week workshop on the topic of the year, after which the students are teamed with the senior participants and are expected to make significant progress on their selected project. Each year, the program tackles a different topic in astrophysics.

This year's topic addresses the challenges of big data in astronomy. Large astronomical surveys now collect unprecedented amounts of data, while large-scale computer simulations of astrophysical phenomena can also generate enormous datasets. To cope with this torrent of data, astronomers are adopting tools developed in the data science industry, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence.

"This field is very rapidly emerging in astronomy," said J. Xavier Prochaska, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. "Indeed, some of the students attending have more experience than the organizers."

Prochaska is a co-director of the 2019 program, along with UCSC astronomers Alexie Leauthaud and Brant Robertson. Prochaska is also a co-founder of the Applied Artificial Intelligence Institute at UC Santa Cruz, one of the sponsors of the summer program. Pascale Garaud, professor of applied mathematics at UC Santa Cruz, started the program in 2010 as the International Summer Institute for Modeling in Astrophysics (ISIMA). The Kavli Foundation has been supporting the program since 2016.

"The Kavli Foundation is pleased to support innovative projects, and this year’s focus on big data addresses an issue of growing importance to astronomy," said Christopher Martin, senior science program officer for the Kavli Foundation. 

In Santa Cruz, the Kavli Summer Program in Astrophysics is associated with TASC (Theoretical Astrophysics at Santa Cruz), a multi-departmental research group of UCSC scientists from Applied Mathematics, Astronomy and Astrophysics, Earth and Planetary Sciences, and Physics. Additional support for the 2019 program is provided by the National Science Foundation, UC Santa Cruz, and the UCSC Applied Artificial Intelligence Institute.