James White, from Akron Ohio, is a second-year double major in atmospheric sciences and Earth sciences. His path led through physics and astronomy. “While amazingly cool, these subjects always felt somewhat distant to me,” he said. However, they engendered a fascination for the planets, their structures and atmospheres and as he became more interested in environmental sciences, his interest in planetary science shifted back to Earth. Never one for an easy path, In April, White competed in Ohio State’s first Datafest, an intense weekend marathon of data-set crunching with prizes at stake. His team came up with a unique approach to their data set and won for “Best Use of Outside Data.”
Why did you choose Ohio State to do your undergraduate work?
My choice of majors inherently limited my college choice to only a few schools. I was drawn to Ohio State for its large size, research opportunities, strong major programs and relatively cheap cost for in-state students. So far, I think I definitely made the right choice.
How did you get interested in your majors?
I have always been passionate about physical science and knew from a young age that I wanted to do something science-related. The pick of Atmospheric and Earth Sciences really occurred mid-way through high school when my passion for science and a life-long love for the environment began to merge. So far these majors have been incredibly engaging and rewarding (more than I even hoped!) and I am more convinced than ever that I made the right choice of major.
What prompted you to participate in this really grueling contest—on a nice April weekend?
I decided to participate more on a whim than anything else. The whole team lived in the Lincoln Tower dorm. One day Mae Hutchison was going around the building asking people she knew if they wanted to join her Datafest team. I thought it sounded like fun and decided to say yes. (Of course, she also promised a weekend full of free food!)
Your novice team won one of only three prizes. Your correlation of weather to Rock n’ Roll concerts was unique. Did this occur to you as you waded through datasets—or did Ticketmaster ask you to look for it?
We came up with this idea on our own. Ticketmaster geared the data for detecting ticket scalping trends; I doubt they ever anticipated anyone linking ticket sales to weather patterns! We knew going in that we couldn't match many of the more senior teams’ raw data-analysis skills, so we tapped into our team’s diverse backgrounds. As we explored the data, I had the idea to start looking at ticket sales compared to major weather events. After some trial and error, we found some promising results, with hurricanes specifically.
Would you spend another weekend like this?
Absolutely! The contest was a lot of fun, and it really challenged and expanded my analytical skills.
What would you tell other students about the experience?
I would say that Datafest is a great experience. It really challenges and expands your ability to look at and understand data. It also instills an appreciation for the sheer size and complexity that can emerge from something seemingly simple like ticket sales. Not to mention, it's a fun experience to just hang out with a group friends all weekend, working towards a common goal.