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Rising to the "Science Visualization Challenge" 30

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the what-graph-charts-suck dept.
ahab_2001 writes "The NSF and the journal Science have announced the 2007 winners of the annual Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge, mounted each year "to encourage cutting-edge efforts to visualize scientific data." There's a write-up of the winners in the journal, and also a slide presentation showcasing the winning images and videos."
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Rising to the "Science Visualization Challenge"

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 30, 2007 @11:01AM (#20801485)
    • by c_forq (924234)
      The video is also embedded in the slideshow, which I would encourage people to check out as there is some amazing work showcased.
  • by Lord Satri (609291) <alexandreleroux@nOsPAM.gmail.com> on Sunday September 30, 2007 @11:20AM (#20801599) Homepage Journal
    I've been amazed by the Prefuse.org open source visualization project [prefuse.org] and its Vizster [jheer.org] subproject. My only sadness is it's still beta.

    From the site: "Prefuse supports a rich set of features for data modeling, visualization, and interaction. It provides optimized data structures for tables, graphs, and trees, a host of layout and visual encoding techniques, and support for animation, dynamic queries, integrated search, and database connectivity. Prefuse is written in Java, using the Java 2D graphics library, and is easily integrated into Java Swing applications or web applets. Prefuse is licensed under the terms of a BSD license, and can be freely used for both commercial and non-commercial purposes."
    • by leenks (906881)
      It's a great toolkit - I think a new version is due sometime in October from what I've read on the forums.
    • by skeeto (1138903)

      A visualization toolkit? Just write some C from scratch. :-P

      More seriously, I recently wrote a Mandelbrot set renderer in C. The program is geared towards running on clusters because it uses many processes to generate a single fractal or series of fractals as part of a zoom sequence. I happened to have just done a writeup about it over at my website, null program [nullprogram.com]. I have videos of some zoom sequences up there for viewing pleasure.

      • by kramulous (977841)
        Some pretty tidy work there. In case you are after some extensions (to the view ability) check out http://local.wasp.uwa.edu.au/~pbourke/projection/Wii/index.html [uwa.edu.au]. Although it uses a wii as a controller, I think the really cool thing is the "navigable movie" aspect. In your case, you could render extremely large images (yes, I know there is a limit of decoder speed and disk IO) and write a quicktime movie player (using the API) so that while the movie is playing, you can navigate around.

        The link is on P
  • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @11:37AM (#20801715) Homepage Journal
    There are times when visualization becomes an end in itself, not a tool for understanding. If what you want to do is create art from the natural world, that's great -- the showcased entries are undeniably beautiful, and I especially wouldn't mind having a the bat flight poster on my wall -- but it's a mistake to think that this is necessarily the best way to convey scientific information. There really are "two types of people in the world" when it comes to this sort of thing: call them visual learners and verbal learners, geometers and algebraists, GUI people and command-line people, what-have-you. For people in the first group, looking at a picture can often lead to great flashes of insight. For people in the second group, of which I happen to be a member, the best way to understand something is to read a well-written description or an elegantly proved theorem. Figures may be helpful, but the simpler (not necessarily the prettier) the better, and usually only as a kind of "capstone" after understanding the concept as written down.

    The reason this bugs me is that in my field, bioinformatics, journal articles and textbook entries are getting glossier and more picture-laden all the time, and I don't think it's helping. Everyone who publishes any article having anything to do with microarray experiments has to include (at least one) heat map, with its pretty but useless bunch of colored dots; if they did hierarchical clustering on the results, they throw in an absurdly complex and impossible-to-interpret dendrogram attached to the side. Discussions of the biological processes under study, in both bioinformatics and classical biology, are filled with brightly colored, oversimplified illustrations that contribute more to the cost and sheer physical weight of textbooks than they do to understanding. And clearly written explanations are scarce, because so much effort has been put into the figures that there's none left over for thinking about the use of language (including math) or, hell, simple proofreading.

    I'm not saying visualization isn't important; it is, and people who do it well are valuable. There are times when even I struggle to understand a paragraph, then look at the accompanying figure and get that "ah hah!" moment. Until modern computer graphics became cheap and widely available, visual learners were often left in the dust, and I'm glad that's not the case anymore. But I do think maybe the pendulum has swung a little too far in the visual direction, and for us algebraists, that's a real problem.
    • by vertinox (846076)
      If what you want to do is create art from the natural world, that's great -- the showcased entries are undeniably beautiful, and I especially wouldn't mind having a the bat flight poster on my wall -- but it's a mistake to think that this is necessarily the best way to convey scientific information.

      It depends. Sometimes by reading a spread sheet you can get everything you need by raw numbers, but sometimes you just go "Oh... Duh! Now its obvious!" when you make a visualization of it. Its just the way the hu
      • Well, the purpose of this particular contest was scientific visualization -- the kind of stuff that goes into conference posters and journal articles and ultimately textbooks -- so the "PowerPoint for the board of directors" standard isn't necessarily the best one to apply. What works for a general audience isn't necessarily the same thing that works for professionals in the field, or students studying to become such. Like everyone else, I ooh and aah over pretty Hubble photos even though I know that's no
    • Yes, but.. (Score:5, Informative)

      by mangu (126918) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @12:14PM (#20801957)
      The reason this bugs me is that in my field, bioinformatics, journal articles and textbook entries are getting glossier and more picture-laden all the time, and I don't think it's helping.


      I think you are right in that point, a picture may be worth a thousand words, but it doesn't necessarily transmit the needed information. I believe visualization is one of the most important tools in research, not for displaying information to others, but to understand the result and implications of our own research. I use Gnuplot [gnuplot.info] to check my results. Very often a glance at the graphic is enough to tell us something is wrong. "Hey, what's that spike over there?"


      OTOH, when you need to transmit information, graphics should be carefully thought out. Unfortunately, engineers and scientists aren't graphic artists, and artists normally don't know enough about technology to create the most useful graphics.


      For me, a good author in this field is Edward Tufte [edwardtufte.com], specifically this book [edwardtufte.com] and this one [edwardtufte.com] and this one [edwardtufte.com]. In one of these, Tufte demonstrates how the cause of cholera was discovered using a street map of London and how the O-ring failure that destroyed the space shuttle Challenger was known beforehand, but was ignored because the engineers were unable to present their arguments in a clear way.

       

      • Yeah, visualizing your own data while you're working with it is a good idea. And sometimes you luck into something that will be useful for your audience, as well. Honestly, though, I think it's not so much a matter of graphic design skills -- I'll reiterate what I said, that the simplest figure is usually the best, though of course this isn't always true -- as it is of separating the wheat from the chaff. There's a lot of visual chaff in journals and textbooks these days.
        • by thealsir (927362)
          There's a lot of _textual_ chaffe in journals and textbooks these days too, mind.
        • by kramulous (977841)
          Perhaps visualisation has been overused in some branches of science. Instead of reproducing the existing visual context, people should be pushing the 'science' of visualisation as well as the 'art'. The non-visual content tends to be stock standard as well as the visual.

          On the other hand, there are those branches of science that continue to expand, fueled by the ever changing, ever enhancing, ever revealing visual representation of data (Volumetric data, I looking at you). Even that data, upon receivers
      • It is amazing that it took even this long in the thread for someone to mention Tufte. Few have better summarized and understood the mix of form and function necessary for data visualization than Tufte. Especially for all the budding bioinformatics grads out there, read the above-recommended books!
        • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward
          It's funny: the more publications and work someone has under their belt, the lower their opinion of Tufte.

          Of course everyone admires him to some extent, but the more accomplished (professional statisticians and authors of graphical papers and software packages) regard him as a crank-who-got-a-lot-of-things-right, as opposed to a genius. Just something to consider - I've not seen a whole lot of (science) work come out of anyone with breathless praise for Tufte.
          • Hmm. I disagree. I do not know if Tufte is a genius or not, but he does explore an area of need for folks who are actively participating in research (pub record does not necessarily equal active participation). Regarding him as a crank seems a bit harsh and flippant. I guess the same could be said for Jonas Salk or Francis Crick? Maybe I should be refreshed to know that the Political Science department of Yale would hire and keep a lucky crank on the faculty [yale.edu]! I would not recommend his books for meditation,
    • by glwtta (532858)
      heat map, with its pretty but useless bunch of colored dots; if they did hierarchical clustering on the results, they throw in an absurdly complex and impossible-to-interpret dendrogram attached to the side.

      So heatmaps are probably a bit overused, but to say that they are completely useless and uninterpretable is a little harsh. Say you've run transcription profiling on 100 breast tumors, looking at the clustering results, any mildly trained trained scientist could see that say "there seem to be 3 major
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Well the purty stuff has to convey something.
      Check out http://tools.google.com/gapminder/ [google.com]
      Rosling has some pretty interesting videos at Trendalyzers page http://www.gapminder.org/ [gapminder.org]

    • I had entries that were finalists in both the illustration and animation categories for the Visualization Challenge a couple of years ago. My doctorate was in biology, but I also spent many a day teaching myself Cinema 4D, from scratch. I've always had an interest in 3D graphics as a hobby, but within a few months, I was making the most beautiful images of the system I was studying that I had ever seen. We regularly use these now for presentations to scientific and general audiences, and they are published
  • This was my favorite desktop for a couple months.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Ricin_structure.jpg [wikipedia.org]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ricin [wikipedia.org]

    "Idiot Translation"

    "Squiggly Lines = Good" (Orange)
    "Telephone Cords = Bad" (Blue)

    Barley Grain= "Bad Telephone Cords without the assistance of Squiggleys"
    AKA If the bad component can't get a foothold, it is mostly harmless.
  • by antdude (79039)
    In one of the links, b00b/breasts are shown. Here's an enlarged shot [sciencemag.org].
  • I'm surprised nobody has mentioned this [youtube.com] video yet. My prof showed it to us on the first day of cell biology and it really genuinely created an interest in biology that I didn't have before. More detailed version is here: http://multimedia.mcb.harvard.edu/media.html [harvard.edu]
    Really quite amazing, even if you know absolutely nothing about biology

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