BIDS receives Sloan Foundation Grant to contribute to NumPy development

December 21, 2017

The Berkeley Institute for Data Science (BIDS) is pleased to announce that it has received a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to support the development of NumPy, the fundamental array library underpinning scientific Python. The grant complements prior funding received from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in 2016 for the same purpose. The BIDS team supporting the grant consists of (alphabetical) Jonathan Dugan, Jarrod Millman, Fernando Pérez, Nathaniel Smith, Nelle Varoquaux, and Stéfan van der Walt.

UC Berkeley has played a crucial role in NumPy's history since its beginning. Key early developer meetings with Travis Oliphant, Perry Greenfield and others in 2005 set the stage for the merger of Numeric and Numarray that became NumPy in 2006 and helped Python cement its role as a lingua franca of modern data science.  

The upcoming work on NumPy will continue this tradition and help catalyze the next decade of innovation in scientific computation. Over the next few months, BIDS will hire several programmers to improve various aspects of NumPy, including easier construction of custom data types (e.g., missing values, physical units, times & dates) and better integration with arrays customized for specialized domains (e.g., SciPy's sparse arrays, pandas' DataFrames, and xarray's labeled arrays).  

In addition to technical contributions, BIDS will support the NumPy release process, grow the group of core contributors, and make progress toward a more inclusive and diverse development community. The new BIDS NumPy developers will contribute incremental changes as regular members of the community, with an explicit focus on transparency and community engagement. For example, expect to see design documents drafted in public and driven by the community, coding sprints & planning meetings that bring together developers from across the scientific computing ecosystem, solicitation of expert advice and guidance through faculty sabbaticals, conversations with computational groups such as the BLAS drafting committee, a technical talk series, and increasing graduate student involvement.

According to Travis Oliphant, the original author of NumPy and co-founder of both Anaconda and NumFOCUS:  "It is very exciting to see the Sloan foundation provide this grant to an impressive team at BIDS to enable their continued management and improvement of NumPy, a platform that is central to the scientific computing and data-science ecosystem, and ensure that needed improvements to things like the calculation infrastructure and the type system are managed carefully."

This work will take place at BIDS, an interdisciplinary research institute with open source, reproducible research, and open science at the heart of its mission. Within the collaborative atmosphere that exists here -- embedded in the research context of UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the broader San Francisco Bay Area ecosystem -- we hope to attract interested contributors from a diverse array of backgrounds who will join us in shaping the future of open computational research. Interested applicants can find more information in the job posting.

For more information about the work this grant will support, see this NumPy lecture by BIDS Computational Fellow Nathaniel Smith.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is a not-for-profit grantmaking institution based in New York City.  Founded by industrialist Alfred P. Sloan Jr., the Foundation makes grants in support of basic research and education in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and economics.  This grant was provided through the Foundation’s Data and Computational Research program, which makes grants that seek to accelerate scientific discovery by helping researchers exploit advances in our ability to collect, transmit, analyze, store, and manipulate data.