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Leilani Battle awarded 2023 Sloan Research Fellowship

Leilani Battle, wearing a grey and white patterned sweater and a pale blue shirt with long curly hair over her right shoulder, smiles in front of a blurred background set in what appears to be a hotel dining room, with chandeliers and floor-to-ceiling columns

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has named the Allen School’s Leilani Battle (B.S., ‘11) a 2023 Sloan Research Fellow, a distinction that recognizes early-career researchers whose achievements place them among the next generation of scientific leaders in the U.S. and Canada. The two-year, $75,000 fellowships support research across the sciences and have been awarded to some of the world’s most preeminent minds in their respective fields. 

“My research is not traditional computer science research so it’s wonderful to be recognized,” Battle said. “I strive to be myself in everything I do, so it’s awesome to see that others appreciate my unique perspective.”

Battle co-leads the Interactive Data Lab with Allen School colleague Jeffrey Heer, the Jerre D. Noe Endowed Professor of Computer Science & Engineering. Her research investigates the interactive visual exploration of massive datasets and stands at the intersection of several academic disciplines, including healthcare, business and climate science. In each, data-driven decisions continue to drive innovation across the globe. 

“What piqued my interest in data science was the juxtaposition of the incredible power of existing tools and their underutilization by the vast majority of data analysts in the world,” Battle said. “Why are we not making better use of these tools? This sparked a multi-year journey to better understand why people use or don’t use various data science tools and how those tools could be made accessible to and effective for a wider range of users.”

While pursuing her doctorate at MIT, Battle developed ForeCache, a big data visualization tool that allows researchers to explore large amounts of data with greater ease and precision. Through machine-learning, ForeCache increased browsing speeds by reducing system latency by 88% when compared with existing prefetching techniques. 

Since then, Battle has built upon her previous work in data visualization. In one study, she led an international team in creating the first benchmark to test how database systems evaluate interactive visualization workloads. In another, she and Heer investigated characterizing analyst behavior when interacting with data exploration systems, providing a clearer picture of how data is inspected and ultimately used through industry tools such as Tableau Desktop. 

“I’m interested in not only streamlining the data science pipeline but also making it more transparent, equitable and accountable,” Battle said. “Some of my latest ideas are headed in this direction, where my collaborators and I are investigating how the concept of interventions in psychology and human computer interaction (HCI) could bring a new perspective to promoting responsible data science work.”

Battle joined the Allen School faculty in 2021 from the University of Maryland, College Park, where she spent three years as a faculty member after completing a postdoc in UW’s Interactive Data Lab and the UW Database Group. She has previously won an Adobe Data Science Research Award, a National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Initiation Initiative Award and an NSF CAREER Award, among others. Last year, she was recognized with a TCDE Rising Star Award by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and in 2020 was named an MIT Technology Review Innovator Under 35.

Battle is one of two UW researchers to be recognized in the latest class of Sloan Research Fellows, which also included Jonathan Zhu, a professor in the Department of Mathematics. Other recent honorees in the Allen School include professor Yulia Tsvetkov in 2022 and professors Hannaneh Hajishirzi and Yin Tat Lee in 2020.

Read the UW news release here and the Sloan Foundation news release here.

Congratulations, Leilani!