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Student team takes top honors in data science challenge

One of the team’s visualization showed popular intersections.

Using data sets that included population, commuter traffic, air quality and other measures of downtown Chicago, a team of graduate and undergraduate students recently took the top spot in a challenge organized by Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Urban data analytics was one of seven topical challenges organized as part of the fourth annual Smoky Mountain Computational Sciences and Engineering Conference, which was held online this year. Three graduate students and one undergraduate made up the team: Ao“Leo” Qu, a junior double majoring in math and economics; Yanbing Wang and Yu Wang, Ph.D. students in civil engineering; and Yue Hu, Ph.D. student in computer science.

The team addressed the lack of data integration procedures for city-scale traffic impact analysis, such as a daily commute schedule or block-level carbon emissions, plus inconsistencies in fidelity and scale of the data sources that do exist. It devised a workflow and framework for data reconciliation and urban traffic patterns.

“I am always interested in exploring this kind of urban data,” said Qu, who had an internship at the Data Science Institute last summer. “It was exciting to work on urban data that is closely related to our everyday life and solve some real-world problems.”

The Vanderbilt team devised a custom metric—nearest endpoint— to estimate building occupancy; correlated vehicle emissions data with land use, population, building occupancy and weather; and then characterized traffic patterns by locating hot spots, popular roads, rush hours and other factors.

Judges had high marks for the team’s creativity in reaching the solution and in its dynamic, interactive visualizations, said Qu, who made the final presentation.

Their paper, “A data-integration analysis on road emissions and traffic patterns,” will be published in upcoming proceedings of the conference. The advisers of the Ph.D. students are Hiba Baroud, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Dan Work, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. Qu, also has a post with the Work Research Group this semester.