Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute Health Tech Hub Director Named MacArthur Fellow

October 4, 2018

Professor Deborah Estrin, founder and director of the Health Tech Hub at the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute and associate dean of Cornell Tech, has been awarded a 2018 MacArthur Foundation fellowship for her innovative work using mobile devices and data to address social challenges.

MacArthur fellows receive a no-strings-attached award — widely known as the “genius grant” — of $625,000 over five years.

In their description of Prof. Estrin’s work, the MacArthur Foundation noted that Prof. Estrin was among the first to ascertain the potential of using the digital traces of our daily lives for participatory mobile health, and that “Our increasing reliance on personal electronic devices, such as cell phones, GPS, and fitness trackers, and online tools such as banking and shopping, generates an enormous amount of data about our personal behavior patterns — what Prof. Estrin calls ‘small data.’”

In an interview with the Cornell Chronicle, Prof. Estrin said, “I was and remain very humbled and grateful. I feel a sense of commitment to do good by it, and to live up to it.”

In 2011, Prof. Estrin and collaborators launched Open mHealth, an open-source software architecture to integrate various types of small data that could be used to build customized applications that address specific health conditions. Open mHealth avoids the proliferation of redundant, non-interoperable digital health services, and its scalability encourages wider adoption of mobile health technologies by individuals, researchers, and medical care providers.

MacArthur said that Prof. Estrin is also working to empower individuals to gain access to, curate, and ultimately act upon their personal small data. She and colleagues at the Small Data Lab are developing several platforms and applications for management and use of personal data.

According to Prof. Estrin, who is also a professor of computer science at Cornell Tech and of healthcare policy and research at Weill Cornell Medicine, privacy considerations are central to her work. She believes it is possible to leverage insights from digital traces without overly compromising individual privacy.

“The same data that is useful to help understand how someone is responding to a therapy or a drug is also data that can be very exposing about them,” she said. “I am interested in developing new ways to put these data and technologies to use in a way that is more privacy-aware from the perspective of the user and context than is typical in our social media-dominated online lives.”

The Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute is a uniquely experimental, transdisciplinary graduate institute housed on the new Cornell Tech campus in New York City. A partnership between the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and Cornell University, the Jacobs Institute represents a next-generation model for STEM education, designed around industry-focused “hubs” that address specific areas of social and economic need. As the embodiment of the Technion and Cornell’s winning submission in the City of New York’s competition to create a new applied sciences grad school, the Jacobs Institute is growing the City’s tech sector and fostering technologies and companies that will have global impact.

For more than a century, the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology has pioneered in science and technology education and delivered world-changing impact. Proudly a global university, the Technion has long leveraged boundary-crossing collaborations to advance breakthrough research and technologies. Now with a presence in three countries, the Technion will prepare the next generation of global innovators. Technion people, ideas and inventions make immeasurable contributions to the world, innovating in fields from cancer research and sustainable energy to quantum computing and computer science to do good around the world.

The American Technion Society supports visionary education and world-changing impact through the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. Based in New York City, we represent thousands of US donors, alumni and stakeholders who invest in the Technion’s growth and innovation to advance critical research and technologies that serve the State of Israel and the global good. Over more than 75 years, our nationwide supporter network has funded new Technion scholarships, research, labs, and facilities that have helped deliver world-changing contributions and extend Technion education to campuses in three countries.