Newswise — The University of Utah received National Science Foundation funding to create a Federal Statistical Research Data Center that will provide qualified researchers throughout the Intermountain West with access to a wide range of extensive restricted-use data collected by federal and stateagencies.

The vast store of newly accessible data in the Wasatch Front Research Data Center will be available to approved researchers working on a wide range of important social and medical issues, from aging to health, air quality and family economics. Such projects might include looking at how neighborhood features affect obesity and how proximity of higher education options impacts students’ decision-making and household budgets.

Utah researchers currently must travel to a state that has a federal center or arrange to have someone conduct queries for them to access this data, which includes statistical information from the Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Center for Health Statistics. As of this year, there are 31 centers around the country, with the closest a newly opened center in Colorado.

A preliminary survey found at least 50 important research projects underway in Utah that would benefit from access to the center — projects that cannot be completed otherwise.

The Wasatch Front Research Data Center will be unique in the state-level data it plans to provide through its connection to the Utah Population Database, said Ken Smith, a demographer, principal investigator and distinguished professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Studies and Population Sciences at the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

“This center will enhance the quality and quantity of research that the academic community can conduct efficiently in our own backyard,” said Smith, who also is director of the Utah Population Database. “It will give us access to data in a new way conveniently and affordably.”

As at other centers, researchers will be required to have security clearance to use the facility and access its databases.

The U’s College of Social and Behavioral Science will administer the Wasatch Front Research Data Center, which will be housed in the new Carolyn and Kem C. Gardner Commons building. Smith said it will take about a year to get the center launched. 

Brigham Young University and Utah State University are joining the U as collaborators in the center. Other U entities also are participating, including the Huntsman Cancer Institute, the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, the U’s Digitally Integrated Geographic Information Technologies Lab, University Health Sciences and several interdisciplinary research initiatives. State agencies also are expected to collaborate in the center.

The U received a three-year grant to support creation of the research data center. In addition to Smith, initial advisory board members are: Pamela Perlich, director of demographic research at the Gardner Policy Institute; Thomas J. Cova, geography professor and director of the Center for Natural & Technological Hazards; Norman Waitzman, chair of the Department of Economics; and Lori Kowaleski-Jones, chair of the Department of Family and Consumer Studies.