Mapping science exhibit focuses on data visualization of globe’s places, spaces

Posted September 11, 2014


When most students head into the Otto G. Richter Library, they instantly make a beeline to the turnstiles to swipe their CaneCards and begin cramming for the exam they have tomorrow, or print out a last-minute paper before rushing to their next class.

Stop by the library today and you may notice something in the lobby that will make you slow down for a change.

Three globes stand off to the side, one seemingly a normal globe, but with black lines jetting across it, representing “Zones of Invention – Pattern of Pattens” around the world. The second globe is all black with collections of dim white points and lines across it, representing the “Shape of Science – Science Universe.” The third globe, again, appears normal, but with the names of countries printed in bold black letters stamped all around it, creating a visual representation of “Foreign U.S. Patten Holders.”

Step away from the globes and a glass case in the center of the lobby may also grab your attention. Just below the glass inside the case are stunning 2D prints visually representing complex ideas in a comprehensible manner. These ideas range from rational polypharmacology, to models of our very own planet’s ocean currents.

Each of these pieces of design are called “data visualizations,” which essentially take large and complex theories or data, and combine them with techniques from graphic design in order to make the concepts easier to grasp for those who are not experts in the field.

These data visualizations are the main focus of the “Places and Spaces: Mapping Science” exhibit hosted by the University of Miami. Beginning on Sept. 4 and running through Dec. 11, the exhibit is being showcased throughout the first and second floors of the Richter Library, as well as in the Stanley and Jewell Glasgow Lecture Hall in the School of Architecture.

Brought to UM by the School of Communication, the College or Arts and Sciences and the Center for Computation Sciences, “Places and Spaces” consists of 100 data visualizations, as well as multiple 3D interactive elements for students to look at and learn from.

Katy Börner, curator of Places & Spaces and a professor of Information Science at Indiana University, stated in a University of Miami press release that the purpose of these data visualizations is to “inspire cross-disciplinary discussion on how to best track and communicate human activity and scientific progress on a global scale.” Börner co-founded “Places and Spaces” back in 2005, when the exhibit was made up of just 10 pieces.

Gregory J. Shepherd, dean of the School of Communication,  supports the installment of the exhibit.

“The world is clamoring for communication experts who know how to handle data, visualize it, and make it accessible, usable and significant,” he said.

Shepherd encourages all students, especially those in the School of Communication, to attend the exhibit

“it is important, no matter your major in the school, to know something about how to creatively and effectively present data. Besides,” Shepherd continued, “the exhibit will be very cool.”

Stressing how important visualization is in today’s society, Shepherd made it clear that there needs to be a way to express information so that people can understand it, “data of almost every imaginable sort is more readily available to us than ever before. It’s a natural consequence of the disorganization of information. But data without reference, context, comparison, and such, is meaningless.”

In addition to the exhibit itself, multiple world-renowned researchers and visualization designers will be speaking on campus this fall. Students may attend these seminars for free after registering online. The speakers will give a presentation on their field of expertise and inform students on how their ideas relate back to “Places and Spaces.”

After swiping into the library, more glass cases wait off to the far left side, some holding data made to look like aged maps that one would find on a pirate ship, represents shifting plate boundaries in the Gulf of Mexico. Other cases house pieces of art, such as the original artwork for “Scam Issue #3: Postcards Home,” created by the artist Erick Lyle, a South Florida native.

Poster line the sides of the walls running next to the cases, showing scales that map out multiple computer generated diagrams of the human brain, breaking down different functions of the organ and expressing them with different designs, patterns, and colors. Follow these posters and you will eventually reach a touch sensitive TV monitor for interactive learning and experimenting, where you can also write notes about your opinion of the exhibit.