Category: Hub Spotlight Series

Information Visualization MOOC 2016 @ Indiana University

January 25th, 2016 in Hub Spotlight Series, STEM Education

The Hub Spotlight Series communicates advances in Data, Network & Systems Science, STEM Education, and Art & Visualization.

Our friend Katy Börner at Indiana University has announced registration for the 2016 IVMOOC. The course provides an overview about the state of the art in information visualization. Among other topics, the course covers: (i) data analysis algorithms that enable extraction of patterns and trends, (ii)
major temporal, geospatial, topical, and network visualization techniques, (iii) discussions of systems that drive research and development, (iv) students will have the opportunity to collaborate on real-world projects.


Art of Networks II Exhibition

January 13th, 2016 in Art & Visualization, Hub Spotlight Series

The Hub Spotlight Series communicates advances in Data, Network & Systems Science, STEM Education, and Art & Visualization.

Students who participate in NetSci High engage in critical analysis of many of these, and other, visualizations, and make group presentations. They ask questions such as:

  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What is the purpose of the visualization?
  • Is the visualization the best way to convey information? If so, why?
  • What functions does the visualization enable? Can you filter data? Can you search items? Etc.
  • Did you learn from the viz? If so, what?

For context of these in our workshops, see Why do we need visualizations? (presentation by Isabel Meirelles at NetSci High 2014) and also the Design Analysis of Visualizations Workshop Materials.

The Art of Networks II Exhibition was displayed at the 6th International Workshop on Complex Networks (CompleNet 2015).

Networks are everywhere. We find them in a myriad of areas, from metabolic to social networks, from transportation systems to power grids. Networks describe how entities—people, objects, organisms, etc.—are connected and interact with each other. The focus is on relationships, what happens between things, not within them. By studying the patterns of connections between elements in a system we can learn some governing principles of physical, biological, and social phenomena.

Over the years, scientists from several fields have developed a set of tools for analyzing, modeling, and making predictions about complex systems using network science. Given the mathematical, computational, and statistical nature of these tools, visualizations have played a key role in network sciences by adding visual insight and intuition to the numerical analysis. Broadly speaking, information visualizations can help us make sense of complex phenomena by structuring data in ways that facilitate detection of patterns and trends, and ultimately, transform data into meaningful information.

The Art of Networks II brings together nineteen network visualizations examining issues in political and social sciences, biology, technology, transportation systems and cultural phenomena. The authors are representative of top visualization research labs and studios around the world who are producing some of the most innovative work in this area.

Physical network systems, such as transportation networks, provide the spatial attribute to locate both the elements (nodes) and relationships (links) into the spatial structure of maps, for example. Most networks, however, are of abstract data, such as those we find in social or cultural relationships, and do not have a priori spatial properties for positioning elements in the visualization. There are five projects in the exhibition where entities are geo-located and fourteen that use other types of layouts, such as node-link representations, that use symbolic elements to stand for nodes, and lines to represent the connections between them.

The large prints in the gallery provide a glimpse to the content and format chosen by the authors to visually examine recent topics. You can explore the corresponding interactive applications in the iPad station located at the window sill, or by pointing your smart device to the QR code located in each panel. To further learn about networks, visit the exhibition The Many Shapes of Networks.

The Refugee Project is an interactive map that uses United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees data and United Nations population data to tell the histories of refugee movements over time from 1975 to 2012. The map visualizes the size of refugee diasporas from dozens of unstable or repressive nations each year. Concept, Design and Production by Hyperakt, a social impact design studio, and Ekene Ijeoma.

Ekisto is an interactive visualization tool aimed at imagining and mapping online communities. Reproduced at the exhibition are the algorithmic portraits of Stack Overflow, a question and answer site for professional and enthusiast programmers, and of Github, a web-based code repository hosting service, where people share code and build things together. Alex Dragulescu, visual artist, designer and programmer working at the intersection of art and technology.

The Digital Attack Map is a live data visualization of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks around the globe. The tool surfaces anonymous data related to these attacks, letting users explore historical trends and make the connection to related news events. The collaborative team behind the application includes: Fernanda Viégas, Martin Wattenberg, Colin McMillen, CJ Adams. Google Ideas. Google Big Picture Team. Arbor Networks, Inc.

Sourcemap was conceived as a crowdsourcing platform open to the general public—a sort of Wikipedia for supply chains. Anyone can register to contribute knowledge about the various phases of a product’s transformation from raw material to finished good. The software draws the material flows on a map of the world, overlaid with impact metrics such as water use and carbon footprint. Leonardo Bonanni, founder and CEO of Sourcemap.

Visualizing MBTA Data is an interactive exploration of Boston’s subway system. The set of visualizations presents information about how Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA)  operates on a daily basis, how people use the system, how that affects the trains and also how this ties back to Bostonians daily commute. Mike Barry, software engineer at Twitter and Brian Card, software engineer at ViaSat.

The Clubs that connected the 2014 World Cup is a
set of visualizations published at the New York Times in June 2014 for occasion of the World Cup held in Brazil. The interactive tools examine how the global tournament is mostly a remix of the professional leagues that are in season most of the time. Gregor Aisch, graphics editor at the New York Times.

Lostalgic is an online application that depicts ABC’s television series Lost. The application encourages both the analysis and enjoyment of the televised narrative by means of interacting with a set of visualizations. Visitors to the website can explore all 115 episodes of Lost in four ways, that includes a timeline, spherical node-link graphs and matrices depicting relationships between characters in each episode, and a reenactment of the whole show. Santiago Ortiz, head at Moebio Labs.

Friends in Space is a digital platform aimed at fostering real-time human connection between people from all over the world and the first Italian woman astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency. The online application invites you to say hello and directly communicate with Cristoforetti insofar as she is orbiting your section of the Earth. Accurat, data-driven research, design and innovation firm with offices in New York and Milan.

Connected China combines investigative journalism, data and historical context to offer five gateways to understanding China’s political structure. It was built for the iPad as an HTML5 application, and is available on the Web. This unique and powerful information engine was the result of a collaboration between Fathom Information Design and Thomson Reuters. Fathom Information Design, a design and software consultancy.

An Ecosystem of Corporate Politicians is an interactive visualization of the relationships between members of Portuguese governments and companies for the period of 1975 to 2013. Data is approached as an ecosystem, where each set of interdependent relations are regulated by physical conditions. Pedro Cruz, data visualization specialist and explorer.

A Network Analysis of Hubway is an online interactive visualization depicting multi-modal commuting patterns from a selected Hubway bike-sharing station to more than 8,000 MBTA bus/rail stops over the Boston metro area. Based on multiple objectives such as travel times, the number of transfers, and convenience, the tool presents optimal commuting patterns that are obtained using service information from the GTFS feed provided by the MBTA. Virot “Ta” Chiraphadhanakul, data scientist at Facebook.

Sequence Bundles is a novel visualization method that enables bioinformaticians and other scientists to explore biological sequence data: proteins, DNA and RNA. It allows researchers to gather new insight about their data, generate new hypotheses and potentially—further down the path—aid new discoveries in biology, drug development and beyond. Science Practice  in collaboration with the Goldman Research Group at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, European Bioinformatics Institute.

StratomeX is an open source visualization tool for cancer subtype analysis that allows experts to group patients based on multiple criteria toward discovery of relationships between such groupings. It combines visualization and algorithms in one interactive system to enable and speed up the scientific discovery process which can lead to more personalized treatment. Harvard University (Cambridge, Mass.), Johannes Kepler University Linz (Austria) and Graz University of Technology (Austria).

Epidemic Rapid Transit Map is a visualization showing a hypothetical pandemic scenario with the same parameters pandemic starting in Hanoi, Vietnam. The epidemic simulations are performed with the Global Epidemic and Mobility model, that counts about 220 different countries and integrates an individual based epidemic dynamic with global air travel and short-scale traveling/ commuting data.  Modeling of Biological and Socio-technical Systems (MOBS) Lab, Northeastern University, Boston.

An Examination of U.S. Gun Murders uses data from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report, to visualize the gun murders that took place in 2010 and 2013. Periscopic, data visualization firm.

The Life Cycle of Ideas explores the ebb and flow of scientific theories. It tries to capture how long a hypothesis lives in the collective consciousness of scientists before being either disproved or accepted. The infographic originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Popular Science magazine. Collaboration between Katie Peek, information editor at Popular Science and Accurat, a data-driven research, design and innovation firm with offices in New York and Milan.

Serendipity Search is two visualizations depicting Columbia University Libraries collection: Catalog—an interactive visualization of the Columbia Library’s holdings, circulation and activity, and Crossing Disciplines—a digital library tool for multidisciplinary exploration. The visualizations were developed at the Spatial Information Design Lab at Columbia University in collaboration with Columbia University Library.

EdgeMaps is a novel visualization technique aimed at showing the propagation of ideas and influence among philosophers across epochs and interests. The technique treats influence connections as explicit and similarities as implicit relations. A demo of EdgeMaps is available online.  Marian Dörk, Institute for Urban Futures, Potsdam University of Applied Sciences (Germany), Sheelagh Carpendale and Carey Williamson, Department of Computer Science, University of Calgary (Canada).

The Iranian Internet between Freedom and Isolation is a series of infographics examining the complexities of internet censorship in Iran. It explains who the users are and how the authoritarian regime regulates the internet. Maral Pourkazemi, design activist.

Art of Networks II was organized by Isabel Meirelles, information designer and Professor at OCAD University, Canada, in collaboration with Catherine Cramer, Stephen Uzzo and Marcia Rudy at the New York Hall of Science, and Ronaldo Menezes at the Florida Institute of Technology.

Bringing Big Data to Bear on Organ Failure

January 8th, 2016 in Data, Network & Systems Science, Hub Spotlight Series

The Hub Spotlight Series communicates advances in Data, Network & Systems Science, STEM Education, and Art & Visualization.


Plamen Ivanov is a Research Professor in the Center for Polymer Studies in the Department of Physics at Boston University and Director of the Laboratory for Network Physiology.

When Plamen Ivanov walked into Massachusetts General Hospital last year, Ednan Bajwa wasn’t sure what to make of him. Ivanov, a physicist at Boston University, was not sick and hadn’t come seeking medical care. Instead, he had a proposal for Bajwa, who is the director of MGH’s medical intensive care unit: He wanted to collect hours and hours of data on vital signs from Bajwa’s patients and analyze it to see if he could create an atlas of how organ systems interact. Bajwa recalls that initially he was mystified.

“If you’re a physician reading this stuff, you’re like what the heck is he talking about,” he says.

Ivanov is a founding member of a field that he calls “network physiology.” At Boston University he leads a research group composed of people with backgrounds in statistics, physics, and signal processing — very different fields than the ones usually associated with cutting edge medical research. These perspectives are necessary, Ivanov explains, because he’s trying to develop a whole new way of thinking about how the human body works.

“The complexity behind the anatomics of individual organ systems and the dynamic coupling between systems,” Ivanov says, “is such that it requires a special preparation that physicists and computational scientist have, not necessarily biologists, physiologists, and clinicians.”

Medicine today takes what’s generally referred to as a reductionist approach to understanding disease. In this view, physicians consider the body on an increasingly fine scale, from organs down through cells, proteins, and molecules. This way of thinking about how the body works is similar to trying to understand the macro-scale physical world by studying its most basic parts — elements, atoms, subatomic particles, and so on down the rabbit hole.

There are limits to this approach. In particular, the reductionist view can leave doctors at a loss to explain sudden overall changes in a person’s health.

“A lot of this is a function of us not understanding physiology all that well,” Bajwa says. “Organs shut down sometimes for unclear reasons. There’s a bad infection, kidneys stop functioning, we don’t always know exactly why that happens.”

Physicists refer to the sudden shift from one state of matter to another — like a liquid into a solid — as a phase change. To study these shifts, which may provide a framework for thinking about similarly dramatic shifts in the human body, they work by the credo, “more is different.” This means that you can understand the properties of atoms all you want, but when you put enough atoms together in the right way you get water, which is something completely different and far more complex than its component parts. Condensed matter physicists are trained to think this way, to take a broad view of a system and study the forces and interactions that shape it.

“When you look at really complex systems, most people would try to reduce it into individual elements,” says Kang Liu, a postdoctoral fellow in physics at Boston University who works with Ivanov. “But even when you have simple elements, they interact with each other and you’ll see emergent behavior that can’t be described as the sum of the individual elements.”

Ivanov, whose work is supported by a recent grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation, wants to take this perspective from physics and apply it to the study of the human body. To do this, he’s taking a big data approach. Patients in hospitals are hooked up to all sorts of instruments that produce data on how their organs are functioning — EKGs, EEGs, mechanical ventilators. Ivanov wants to collect as much of this data as he can and probe it statistically, to see if he can tease out how organ systems communicate with each other and coordinate behaviors. In one of the group’s first papers, Ivanov and his colleagues analyzed vital signs from healthy patients to detect three different ways in which respiratory rate is coordinated with heart rate.

This approach to discovery, of collecting a lot of data and seeing what kinds of patterns emerge, is very different than the way research in medicine usually unfolds. The more typical approach is to generate a specific hypothesis and devise an experiment to test it, and Bajwa says this difference made him slightly skeptical when Ivanov introduced himself.

But, the more he learned about the idea of network physiology and Ivanov himself, the more receptive he became. “I asked colleagues in similar fields and [Ivanov] came well-recommended, his story sort of checked out,” Bajwa says. “We met several times, he was very persistent, he kept on asking and asking and eventually broke down our resistance over here.”

Within the next three months Bajwa expects that MGH will begin sending Ivanov vital signs data from patients in the medical intensive care unit. Ivanov and his colleagues will analyze that data, with the goal of creating maps of how organ systems interact. If the research proves fruitful, Ivanov imagines that one day hospital patients will be hooked up to a whole new kind of monitor. Instead of narrowly measuring blood pressure, heart rate, and brain activity, these devices would track the relationships between key organ systems — alerting doctors to cataclysmic phase changes in human health before they occur.

Reprinted from an 11/11/2015 article in The Boston Globe