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Ilya Zaslavsky Named SDSC 2022 Pi Person of the Year

Published September 9, 2022

Ilya Zaslavsky, SDSC's 2022 Pi Person of the Year.  Credit: SDSC External Relations.

By Cynthia Dillon, SDSC Communications

The San Diego Supercomputer Center is pleased to announce its 2022 Pi Person of the Year. This is a distinction awarded each year to an individual at SDSC who consistently demonstrates exemplary research in both science and cyberinfrastructure. This year’s honor goes to Ilya Zaslavsky, director of the Spatial Information Systems Laboratory at SDSC and UC San Diego.

Zaslavsky’s research interests focus on distributed information management systems—in particular on spatial and temporal data integration, geographic information systems and spatial data analysis. Among his many accomplishments is the GeoACT (geographically assisted agent-based model for Covid-19 transmission) - a simulation modeling portal designed to help school administrators evaluate risks of  COVID-19 transmission in K-12 classrooms and school buses and select appropriate mitigation measures. Zaslavsky, who teaches an upper-division “Spatial Data Science and Applications” course at the Halicioglu Data Science Institute and a graduate-level "Data Science Approaches to Spatial Analysis" at GPS, worked with his undergraduate students to develop the resource, along with doctors at UC San Diego Pediatrics and epidemiologists at the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency. An extension of this collaboration was another online tool the e-Decision Tree, which has been used by school administrators and parents from 42 San Diego school districts to generate instructions and manage timing around student and staff exposure, infection, testing, and return to the classroom.

Additionally, Zaslavsky has led design and technical development in several cyberinfrastructure projects, including the national-scale Hydrologic Information System, which developed standards, databases and services for integration of hydrologic observations. He was the editor of the initial WaterML specification, and then served, for 10 years, as a co-chair of the Hydrology Domain Working Group of the Open Geospatial Consortium, an international group of experts who developed WaterML 2, the first ever international standard for water data exchange.

Zaslavsky has developed spatial data management infrastructure as part of several large projects in domains ranging from neuroscience (digital brain atlases) and geology to disaster response and regional planning and conservation. He had been an active NSF EarthCube principal investigator (PI), and among many contributions, developed the EarthCube Data Discovery Studio for data search and exploration. His Survey Analysis via Visual Exploration (SuAVE) project focuses on online survey data analysis and has provided value to research projects and communities in many domains. SuAVE was also used for teaching research methods to undergraduate students.

Most recently, Zaslavsky has held PI and senior leadership roles as a part of the NSF Convergence Accelerator program, focusing on Open Knowledge Networks. He actively works on knowledge network applications in biomedical and geospatial domains, contributing also to the SDSC’s WIFIRE Commons platform.

“I cannot imagine a more deserving candidate for this year’s PI Person award,” said Ilkay Altintas, founding director of WIFIRE and the division director for CICoRE, SDSC’s arm of cyberinfrastructure and convergence research and education. “Ilya has had a lasting impact over three decades, pioneering transformational methods and tools to enable scientific and societal collaborators to effectively apply geospatial data and analysis.”

Zaslavsky received his Ph.D. for research on statistical analysis and reasoning models for geographic data from the University of Washington (1995). Previously, he received a Ph.D. equivalent from the Russian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Geography, for his work on urban simulation modeling and metropolitan evolution (1990). Before joining SDSC in 2000, he was a faculty member at Western Michigan University (1995-98). He also worked as GIS staff scientist at San Diego State University (1997-2000) and developed software for online mapping and exploratory social data analysis. Zaslavsky developed one of the first XML-based online mapping systems called Axiomap (Application of XML for Interactive Online Mapping) in 1999.

Over the years, Zaslavsky has earned support from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of State and other federal agencies, private foundations, Microsoft and the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI).