Panos Pardalos – Ordinary Data, Extraordinary Outcomes

It’s in our power grids and brain scans. It’s in our government records and Facebook timelines. Name just about any aspect of life, and Panos Pardalos can tell you about its data sets. His goal is to help us understand them — and how they change our lives.

As the Paul and Heidi Brown Preeminent Professor in Industrial and Systems Engineering, Pardalos’ work extends from cancer treatment to financial markets. He has used data sets on electrical activity in the brain to predict epileptic seizures, then turned that knowledge toward understanding Parkinson’s.

“We have data from the government, we have data about the weather. We have data about telecommunications,” he says. “The key issue here is how to extract knowledge out of this huge amount of information.”

Pardalos and his students have analyzed how cancer drugs kill tumor cells, how global financial markets are adapting to the rise of the BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia, India and China — and how to prevent widespread power blackouts. The diversity of topics excites him, but also presents one of the biggest challenges of his work.

“Data analysis is one of the most difficult disciplines,” he says. “If it comes from finance, if it comes from medicine, from weather forecasting, you must know something about these areas, too.” Ideas don’t always come while he’s in the lab. Whatever he’s doing, chances are he’s seeing the data behind the everyday.