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Seeing Data

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A visualization of data related to air travel.

Data artist Jer Thorp extracted location information from tweets to create a graphic depicting air travel.

Credit: Jer Thorpe

Computer scientists, artists, and designers discussed the emerging science of big-data visualizations during a recent symposium hosted at the California Institute of Technology. The panelists detailed their visions for the potential of data visualization's utility, power, and beauty.

"Visualization is another entry point to the same practice--another kind of inquiry that we are already engaged in," says Caltech professor Hillary Mushkin.

Artist Jer Thorp says the promise of big data is that it contains hidden insight and knowledge. "To gain that deeper understanding, we must embrace the inherent complexity of data, according to data," Thorp says.

Data visualization also can be interactive, enabling users to manipulate layers of information. Although data visualization has been around for many years, only recently has the need to visualize lots of complex data come about, notes Caltech's Anja-Silvia Goeing. This requires a change in mindset concerning data visualization.

Designer Eric Rodenbeck emphasizes that visualization must be considered a medium through which data can be explored, comprehended, and communicated.

This summer, Caltech researchers will mentor undergraduate students from around the United States to work on data-visualization research projects.

From California Institute of Technology
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