On Wednesday, our GRC Science Viz conference had a very special treat – an evening talk given by Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde, from the Barrow Neurological Institute (in Phoenix, AZ). Authors of the book Sleights of Mind and many articles in Scientific American, Nature, and Science, they are both Ph.D. neurobiologists and research lab directors at Barrow, where they study various aspects of visual, sensory, and cognitive neuroscience.
Category Archives: visualization
Day four of GRC SciViz 2011 brought us the theme “Revealing Unseen Complexity”. The speakers were Wilmot Li (Adobe Inc.), Randy Sargent (Carnegie Mellon University), and Jayanne English (University of Manitoba). The evening session featured Susan Martinez-Conde and Stephen Macknik (Barrow Neurological Institute) for a talk on neuroscience, attention and magic.
This morning’s GRC Science and Education Visualization conference started with a session on Virtual Worlds, Games and Simulations. There were three talks in the session – Cynthia Calongne (Lyr Lobo in SL), Andy Stricker (Spinoza Quinnell in SL), Marianne Riis (Mariis Mills in SL), and Margaret Honey (CEO of NY Hall of Science).
I just arrived at the Science and Education Visualization Gordon Conference in Smithfield, Rhode Island. The conference is being held this year at Bryant University, just northwest of Providence. 140 scientists, artists, researchers, museum designers, and graphic designers have gathered here for this five-day, intensive meeting. All the sciences are represented here – biology, chemistry, physics, math, computer science, cognitive psychology, astronomy, and geology – the emphasis is on interdisciplinary connections, as applied to visualizations.
One wonderful aspect of this interdisciplinary conference is that the speakers stay for the duration – no parachuting in to give their talk and leave. With the agenda structured as it is, to allow for maximum time for discussion, there is plenty of opportunity to extend the conversation and explore the intriguing ideas presented by those speakers. In addition to that, the program offers a visionary mini grant program (three grants of $6k each, funded by the National Science Foundation). All attendees have the opportunity to write and submit proposals for these mini grants, which are awarded in September. What a terrific idea to seed new ideas and foster collaboration.
I will attempt to blog the conference (posting the blogs at the conference’s conclusion), but will not be able to capture all of the speakers.
I’m always interested in new ways of looking at things – new visualizations – particularly when they illustrate something that I know very little about. When we examine a visualization on an unfamiliar topic we get a unique opportunity to really dig into how the visualization works — and, in the process, how our brain works with the visualization.
So, imagine my delight when I saw this visualization of Soccer’s World Cup bracket in the Wall Street Journal’s Weekend Journal section (I know, hardly the place you’d expect to find in depth sports commentary – but then, that’s the World Cup for you). For those of you not familiar with brackets – they are basically an outline of the possibilities in a given sports championship. Which team needs to beat which team in order to win it all. You might be more familiar with them when sketched for the Super Bowl or the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Fans make their predictions using brackets, sports journalists use them to report on the proceedings, and book makers use them to give odds and track winnings.
To fully appreciate how unique this particular visualization is, you need to have a look at the usual sports bracket. Here is a more typical bracket visualization, for the World Cup.
Turns out that soccer, as played in the World Cup, is different than other sports – it is not single elimination. ”One and Done” is the method in the NCAA tournament, but in soccer it’s “Round Robin” play, meaning that, initially, teams gain points for wins as well as ties to earn the honor to advance to the knock-out stage. This circuclar representation makes that twist clear. And I love the added dimensions that it affords… The sense of moving to the middle. The nuances of the length of the rings. The color coding of the groups that makes the progression clearer. The feeling of a labryinth. Nice, eh?
And here’s another one for you – a Twitter visualization of the World Cup. Roll over each circle for match results and then click on one to watch a replay of the Twitter stream on that match. Fascinating!
Like most of us, I’ve been watching the latest developments from the Gulf of Mexico with growing alarm. Like a blight, like a creature bent on destruction, the black slick is growing, moving ever closer to the fragile Gulf coast, threatening every living creature in its path. The thing about oil spills (and bacteria, and galaxies, and mitochondria, and black holes) is that their scale is just too difficult to visualize. Our failure to really grasp the enormity, the complexity of the thing means that we fail to grasp its impact.
But with this oil spill we have a few, new visualization tools. And they’re not just in the hands of the experts – they are on our own computers and cell phones. Just this week, video was released of the actual source of the Gulf oil – spewing out of a broken well, nearly a mile below the ocean’s surface. Let me say that again. Video from a mile underwater. Whoa. Representative Edward Markey (Chair of the Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming) has posted a live feed of the spill (spill cam) on his web site. In addition to that we have amazing photographs, artfully portraying the scope and scale of the disaster. NASA satellite images, readily downloadable with a click give you a clear view of the spill – and you can watch it play out over time. Google Earth has now made NASA’s MODIS imagery available as a downloadable overlay for Google Earth. But to really give you a personal sense of scale – use Google Earth’s “Places of Interest” layer to look at the spill in situ, as it changes over time, and then place it over your own region of the globe. And here’s a nice one – “ifitwasmyhome“, where you can instantly overlay the spill on a map anywhere. See how far the slick stretches over landmarks that you know.
Here’s a very clever idea… every painting at the MOMA (as of April 10, 2010) recorded on a two-minute video. It’s a bit of a mind-bender to watch (Rothkos right next to Warhols), but there’s an intriguing effect to it. I particularly like the videographer’s deliberate insertion of the occassional viewer (seen in the foreground, looking at the painting), no doubt to remind us that these are pictures at an exhibition …and we, too, are onlookers.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the average person living in an industrialized country emits 12 metric-tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. For Americans, it’s 23 tonnes.
Recognizing how abstract big numbers like that can be for most people, a group called Millennium ART (in conjunction with the United Nations Department of Public Information) created a clever art installation to demonstrate. They’ve constructed a HUGE cube that sits on a barge on St. Jorgen’s Lake (just outside Copenhagen, Denmark – where the UN Climate Change Conference – COP15 – took place in December, 2009) that approximates the space occupied by one tonne of carbon dioxide gas.
But that’s not all. The cube is constructed from shipping containers, with plasma media screens on all the faces. Millennium ART rigged the cube so that media can be displayed on the visible faces via a live portal, making it a giant multimedia installation. Over the course of a day, a series of images and statistics (all related to the topic of climate change) display on the faces of the cube. Here is a short video showing the way the cube was constructed and here is a seven-minute video of the cube, displaying it’s content, as people walk by.
Measured at standard atmospheric pressure, one metric-tonne of carbon dioxide takes up a cube the size of a 3-story building (8.2 meters x 8.2 meters x 8.2 meters) – the size of this demonstration cube.
What a great idea, eh? Not only is one metric tonne difficult to visualize, but since no one can actually see CO2, this is a double-bind visualization problem. It’s also wonderful to think of a group of scientists, architects, designers, and media technologists working together to meaningfully interpret this environmental problem for people. Powerful message.