Visualization key to understanding data

Jake Hong

Presenting data in a visual form omits the complexities and makes the information more palatable, said Kelly Gaither, a UT research scientist and lecturer, on Tuesday.

The talk, “Picture This: Visualizing Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” discusses the prominent role of visualization — the presentation of data in a relatable form — in scientific advancements. The event, which is part of the Austin Forum monthly speaker series, served to inform, educate and inspire people about science and technology issues and their impact on society, said spokeswoman Faith Singer-Villalobos.

“Visualization is of utmost importance, not just drawing a picture, but bringing out the information that is present in understanding data and presenting it using all our perceptual senses,” said computer science professor Chandrajit Bajaj, who studies graphics and visualization.

Gaither said visualization is being reshaped by advances in technology.

“It’s been around for a thousand years,” she said. “All that’s changed is the technology to present it.”

Visualization highlights the intersection of science, technology and artistry, she said.
“We try to make a beautiful picture, while it’s not the point, it certainly helps get attention,” said Gaither, director of Data and Information Analysis at UT’s Texas Advanced Computing Center.

The center applies visualization by assisting research teams in the presentation of their data.

Gaither described the center’s progress, such as providing facilities for scientists and the technology necessary to visualize research data. Achievements include storm simulations of Hurricane Ike in 2008 and the projected path and spread of the H1N1 epidemic in spring 2009, she said. The center also provided the supercomputers and visualization experts in running visual simulations on the BP gulf oil spill of 2010.

The center brought researchers to the University because they require the means to present their data, said computer science sophomore Anu Srivastava, an undergraduate research assistant in the center’s visualization and data analysis unit.

Means of presentation include the supercomputers and the personnel capable of converting data into a visual medium.

“Offering these not only betters the University of Texas, but the scientific community in general,” Srivastava said.