Category Archives: visual data

Physics World reaches out with science doodles

A March 2014 special education issue of Physics World features a ‘science doodle’ on the cover. From a Feb. 27, 2014 news release on EurekAlert,

In this month’s edition of Physics World, professional “science doodler” Perrin Ireland gives her unique take on one of Richard Feynman’s famous lectures, 50 years after it was first delivered.

The doodle is made up of an array of small, colourful, cartoon-like pictures that merge into one big collage representing Feynman’s “The Great Conservation Principles” lecture that he gave at Cornell University in 1964 – one of the first of Feynman’s lectures to be captured on film.

Here’s what the doodle looks like from the Feb. 28, 2014 Physics World blog post by Matin Durrani and Louise Mayor, and an excerpt from the post,

Richard Feynman lecture doodle by Perrin Ireland taken from the March 2014 issue of Physics World magazine. [downloaded from]

Richard Feynman lecture doodle by Perrin Ireland taken from the March 2014 issue of Physics World magazine. [downloaded from]

Commissioned by Physics World for the March 2014 education special issue, which examines new ways to teach and learn physics, this colourful image is based on a lecture by Richard Feynman called “The Great Conservation Principles”. It is one of seven Messenger Lectures that the great physicist gave at Cornell University in the US exactly 50 years ago, a video of which can be watched here or in the digital version of Physics World.

The drawing’s creator is professional “science doodler” Perrin Ireland – science communications specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council in the US – who describes herself as “a learner who needs to visualize concepts in order to understand them”. For people like Ireland, thinking visually or in a story-like way helps them to recall facts and explanations, which can come in very useful when trying to learn something new.

So to find out what science doodling could bring to physics, we invited Ireland to watch Feynman’s 1964 lecture and create a drawing for us – the picture above being the result. Half a century after his lecture, Feynman remains an iconic figure in physics and although we’ll never know what he would have made of Ireland’s doodle, our bet is he would have been amused.

You can click on the image [in the original post] to see it in greater detail, and if you’re a member of the Institute of Physics (IOP), you can find out more about Ireland’s work and her motivations in an article in the digital version of the magazine or via the Physics World app, available from the App Store and Google Play.

For the record, here’s a a run-down of highlights in the issue.

Taking modern physics into schools – Having helped to introduce a new curriculum in Scottish schools that showcases the latest physics research, Martin Hendry describes the lessons learned in bringing cutting-edge physics into the classroom

Feynman’s failings – They were never successful as a textbook. So why, a half-century after their publication, do so many physicists keep Richard Feynman’s three volumes within reach? Robert P Crease has a theory

Computing in the classroom – Computer science is essential for modern physics, yet students come little prepared for it. That may soon change, says Jon Cartwright

The power of YouTube – As one of the presenters of the hugely successful Sixty Symbols series of YouTube science videos, Philip Moriarty describes his experiences in front of the  camera and how they have transformed his ideas about bringing physics to wider audiences

Rules of engagement – Empowering children to look at the world around them with
curious, questioning eyes is the goal of Fran Scott, who describes the golden rules she follows to do just that

Learning by doodling – Do your reams of written lecture notes ever really sink in?
Louise Mayor investigates how visual methods can help you process and remember information

The MOOC point – Massive open online courses give students free access to some of the world’s top educators. James Dacey explores the benefits and drawbacks of these courses compared with those traditionally offered by universities

Thinking like a scientistEugenia Etkina and Gorazd Planinšič describe how research into how people learn – plus the desire to help all students develop scientific “habits of mind” – is reshaping the way they teach physics

We are bound by symmetryMatthew R Francis reviews The Universe in the Rearview Mirror: How Hidden Symmetries Shape Reality by Dave Goldberg

Plutopia foreverKate Brown reviews The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kierman

Graduate careers special – Our bi-yearly special looks at the challenges of working abroad for physicists

Navigating new cultures – Working overseas is a common career step for physics graduates, but moving countries can produce a culture shock. Sharon Ann Holgate explains how to manage the effects of cultural differences

Making the right move – Your first steps into the world of work after graduation are an
adventure and working abroad can seem like an especially exciting way to begin. But is it
right for you? Marcia Malory investigates

Lateral Thoughts: But it’s obvious David Pye on strange conventions in physics

Enjoy the issue – and if you fancy trying a doodle of your own, we’d love to see your efforts, which you can e-mail to [email protected]

The Feb. 27, 2014 news release offers more detail about the doodle, Perrin Ireland, and the art of information visualization,

The doodle, which was commissioned as part of Physics World‘s special issue on education, includes two spaceships passing each other to illustrate Einstein’s theory of relativity, two gods playing chess as a description of nature, and a child playing with building blocks to illustrate the law of the conservation of energy.

Ireland first adopted the doodle technique while studying for a human biology degree at Brown University and it became so helpful that her coursemates began asking for copies of her creations.

For her, and many others, thinking in a visual and story-like way enhances the learning process, helping to recall specific facts and explanations.

Ireland is now part of a growing movement of “information visualizers”, some of whom have been commissioned to “live scribe” at academic conferences to provide more aesthetic recordings of the meeting. Others, meanwhile, have been employed by companies such as Disney to “visually play” with ideas for how they want projects to turn out.

For students wanting to make use of Ireland’s doodle technique, Louise Mayor, features editor at Physics World, explains in her accompanying article that in order for it to be successful, they must try it themselves and not rely on the visualizations of others.

“Everyone’s brain contains different memories and associations, so the best way to take advantage of these techniques is to do them yourself – because when you convert the information you’re trying to learn into images, associations and analogies, you are forced to relate them to the images and concepts already stored in your mind,” Mayor writes.

A PDF of the March 2014 issue of Physics World will be available to download free from Monday 10 March 2014.

I note that while the news release states that a free issue will be available for downloading, the blog posting states that you must be a member of the Institute of Physics, publisher of Physics World, which requires payment of a fee, to access the issue.

British Library’s Beautiful Science exhibit of data visualization leads to Vancouver, Canada’s Martin Krzywinski, scientist and data visualizer

One tends to think of data visualization as a new phenomenon but the practice dates back to the 17th century at least according to the British Library’s Beautiful Science exhibition opening today, Feb. 20, 2014 and extending to May 26, 2014. Rebekah Higgitt’s Feb. 20, 2014 posting for the Guardian’s Science blog network offers a preview (Note: Links have been removed),

Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight, which opens at the British Library tomorrow, is a small but thought-provoking display that looks at how scientific data has and can be visualised. Prompted by today’s interest in big data and infographics, it merges modern digital displays with historic texts and images.

The display items are well-chosen, and include some key examples of innovation in data collection and presentation. However, the science- rather than history-led interpretation of the 17th- to 19th-century texts is clear in the fact that their selection reflects trends and concerns of the present, rather than a concern to reveal those of the past. There is, likewise, an emphasis on progress toward ever better and more accurate approaches to data visualisation (although in a post at PLOS Blogs, Kieniewicz suggests that designers have recently stolen a march over scientists in the display of data).

The PLOS (Public Library of Science) blogger mentioned in previous excerpt is Johanna Kieniewicz and the Beautiful Science exhibition’s curator. In the Feb. 13, 2014 posting on her ‘At the Interface’ blog, where she discusses the exhibit she also makes it clear that this is a personal blog and is not associated with her employers (Note: A link has been removed),

When it comes to the visual representation of scientific information, in a scientific context, does aesthetic matter? In my day job at the British Library, I’ve spent the past year curating the upcoming Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Ideas exhibition. This experience has given me a phenomenal opportunity to think about the way we communicate and discover things in science. And, I think there’s a strong case to be made for beautiful science.

The visual representation of data is a fundamental part of what it means to be a scientist today. Whether a single data point plotted on a graph or a whole genome sequence, data visualisation helps us to examine, interpret, and contextualise information in a way that numbers and statistics often do not. Moreover, at a time when we are expected to process ever-increasing volumes of information, visualisations are often more readily digestible than some of the more ‘traditional’ alternatives; as the increased prominence of colourful ‘data viz’ work in the pages of our newspapers, websites, and in-flight magazines would attest.

You do have to be in London, UK to attend this show however the British Library’s Feb. 19, 2014 press release does offer more information which might satisfy curiosity about the show and associated events, as well as, some images (Note: Links have been removed),

In an age of rapidly advancing technologies Beautiful Science, opening tomorrow in The Folio Society Gallery at the British Library, shows that the challenge of presenting big data in innovative ways is not a new one. From 17th century illustrated diagrams to contemporary interactive visualisations, the exhibition explores how advances in science alongside changes in technology have allowed us to visually interpret masses of information.

Beautiful Science, sponsored by Winton Capital Management, explores the work of scientists and statisticians through the ages using the Library’s own vast science collections together with new and exciting technology, focusing on three key themes – public health, weather and evolution.

From an early visual representation of a hierarchically ordered universe in Robert Fludd’s ‘Great Chain of Being’ (1617) and Florence Nightingale’s seminal ‘rose diagram’ (1858), which showed that significantly more Crimean War deaths were caused by poor hospital conditions than battlefield wounds, to a contemporary moving infographic of ocean currents from NASA, this exhibition shows how visualising data has changed the way we see, interpret and understand the world around us.

Dr Johanna Kieniewicz, lead curator of Beautiful Science, says: “The British Library is home to the nation’s science collection and we’re thrilled to be opening up our fantastic collections in the Library’s first science exhibition. As big data is becoming a topic of such huge interest, we particularly wanted to show the important connections between the past and the present. Data that is centuries old from collections like ours is now being used to inform cutting edge science. We’re also delighted to include video interviews with leading experts, Dame Sally Davies, UK Chief Medical Officer, Sir Nigel Shadbolt, chairman and co-founder of the Open Data Institute, David McCandless, data-journalist and designer, and David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at Cambridge University.”

Following the success of last year’s Inspiring Science season, the exhibition is accompanied by a range of events including Festival of the Spoken Nerd: I Chart the Library, Seeing is Believing: Picturing the Nation’s Health with Sally Davies and David Spiegelhalter, Knowledge is Beautiful with David McCandless and a Family Discovery Day.

Now for some of the images in the show. This first one is Florence Nightingale’s Rose,

In her seminal ‘rose diagram’, Florence Nightingale demonstrated that far more soldiers died from preventable epidemic diseases (blue) than from wounds inflicted on the battlefield (red) or other causes (black) during the Crimean War (1853-56). Courtesy British Library

In her seminal ‘rose diagram’, Florence Nightingale demonstrated that far more soldiers died from preventable epidemic diseases (blue) than from wounds inflicted on the battlefield (red) or other causes (black) during the Crimean War (1853-56). Courtesy British Library

Next, there’s a contemporary reworking of Florence Nightingale’s Rose,

Cambridge University statistician David Spiegelhalter and his colleagues have taken the data from Florence Nightingale’s ‘rose diagram’ and animated the ‘rose’, as well as picturing the data as a bar chart and icon diagram. This shows not only the lasting relevance of Nightingale’s diagram as a visual icon, but also demonstrates how data can be pictured in different ways, to different effect. Courtesy British Library

Cambridge University statistician David Spiegelhalter and his colleagues have taken the data from Florence Nightingale’s ‘rose diagram’ and animated the ‘rose’, as well as picturing the data as a bar chart and icon diagram. This shows not only the lasting relevance of Nightingale’s diagram as a visual icon, but also demonstrates how data can be pictured in different ways, to different effect. Courtesy British Library

This next image from the Beautiful Science show leads to Vancouver,

Specially commissioned for Beautiful Science, these striking ‘Circos’ diagrams picture the genetic similarities between humans and five other animals: chimpanzee, dog, opossum, platypus and chicken.  Courtesy British Library

Specially commissioned for Beautiful Science, these striking ‘Circos’ diagrams picture the genetic similarities between humans and five other animals: chimpanzee, dog, opossum, platypus and chicken. Courtesy British Library

This particular set of ‘Circos’ diagrams are also called the ‘Circles of Life’ and were created by Martin Krzywinski, a Vancouver-based scientist (mostly biosciences) and data visualizer. His blog features his data visualization work which is quite beautiful and, I imagine, is at least part of the reason for the worldwide interest in his work. Krzywinsk has contributed to a Nature (journal) group blog devoted to data visualization. The blog has since been retired but the July 30, 2013 posting provides a subject index to the group’s postings. Krzywinsk was also a featured speaker at a WIRED (magazine) Data | Life conference in New York City on Nov. 6, 2013.



A Planetary Order opens in Berlin’s (Germany) Christian Ehrentraut gallery on Jan. 10, 2014

Next Friday, January 10, 2014, artists Martin John Callanan, Rebecca Partridge, and Katie Paterson will be celebrating the opening of their new show, A Planetary Order, at Berlin’s Christian Ehrentraut gallery. From a Jan. 3, 2014 announcement here’s more about the show and the artists (Note: Links have been removed),

I {Martin John Callanan] would like to invite you to the first opening of 2014 in Berlin at Galerie Christian Ehrentraut, Friday 10 January 2014, 17-21h

A Planetary Order
Martin John Callanan, Rebecca Partridge, Katie Paterson
Galerie Christian Ehrentraut, Berlin
10 January – 15 February 2014

A Planetary Order brings together three artists who, though working in very different media, all explore meta-narratives of time, landscape and systematic abstraction with a combination of sincerity and playfulness. The juxtaposition of painting, sculpture and new media works emphasises the conceptual concerns of the artists who also share a meticulous minimalist aesthetic. The works hover between seriousness and humour, the romantic and the rational, reduction and sublime scale, all within a dialogue which encompasses works made both with highly traditional means and the most current new media technology. The exhibition reflects a growing interest in a return to metaphysical themes, which though sincere, is not without critical distance and awareness of the comical.

The exhibition found it’s name in Martin John Callanan’s A Planetary Order (Terrestrial Cloud Globe) a 3D printed globe which, sitting directly on the gallery floor, on close inspection reveals the cloud cover of one single moment in time. This inconspicuous piece is in fact an ambitious ‘physical visualisation of real-time scientific data’ taken from cloud monitoring satellites overseen by NASA and the European Space Agency. [emphasis mine] Callanan’s transformation of data into artworks which articulate both the enormity of interconnected global systems and our place within them, continues with his most recent work, Departure of All; a flight departure board displaying the flight information for every international airport around the world. Running in real time, the speed of global transit creates a dizzying account of single moments.

Katie Paterson provides a counterpoint to this overwhelm with her imperceptibly slow work, As The World Turns; a record player which, rotating at the speed of the earth, plays Vivaldi’s Four Seasons audible through headphones to only the most attentive listener. As with Callanan, Paterson’s artwork occupies a space far greater than the actual work- activating an imaginative space which is both metaphysical and comic; the record player suggesting the turning earth which we are able to look down upon.   Along the long wall of the gallery hangs Rebecca Partridge’s Notes on The Sea, a series of twelve minimal photorealist paintings calmly depicting fog veiled seascapes as polarities of night and day. In this work the archetypal romantic image enters into a contradiction with itself as it becomes part of a system. Playing with notions of duration, mathematic abstraction, and the possibility of painting a beautiful landscape, Partridge’s attempt to rationalize the epitomised romantic landscape is both meditative and absurd.

Martin John Callanan’s (1982, UK) artwork has been exhibited and published internationally, he has recently been awarded the prestigious Philip Leverhulme Prize for outstanding research within visual arts. Recent solo exhibiitons include Departure of All, Noshowspace (UK) and Martin John Callanan, Horrach Moya (Spain). His work has been shown as part of Open Cube White Cube, (UK), Along Some Sympathetic Lines, Or Gallery (Germany), Es Baluard Modern and Contemporary Art Museum (Mallorca), Whitechapel Gallery (UK), Ars Electronic Centre (Austria), ISEA, Future,Everything, Riga Centre for New Media Culture (Latvia), Whitstable Biennale (UK), and Imperial War Museum North (UK). Callanan graduated with an MFA from the Slade School of Fine Art, London in 2005, where he is currently Teaching Fellow in Fine Art Media. He lives and works in Berlin and London.

Rebecca Partridge (1976, UK) gained an MA in Fine Art from the Royal Academy Schools, London in 2007, since which time she has been exhibiting internationally. Recent solo exhibitions include In The Daytime at Kunsthalle CCA Andratx (Spain), Cabinet Paintings at Newcastle University, (UK), as well as numerous international group exhibitions most recently Verstand und Gefühl, Landscape und der Zeitgenössiche Romantik at Springhornhof Neuenkirchen. In 2008 she was awarded a fellowship from Terra Foundation of American Art in Giverny (France). Other awarded residencies include the Sanskriti Foundation (New Dehli, India); Kunsthalle CCA (Spain); Nes residency (Iceland) and the TIPP Program for Contemporary Art (Hungary). She is currently working on several curatorial projects and is a Lecturer on both BA and MA Fine Art at West Dean College, UK. She lives and works in Berlin and London.

Katie Paterson (1981, UK) graduated from the Slade School of Fine Art, London in 2007. Paterson’s work is known internationally, recent solo exhibitions include In Another Time, Mead Gallery (University of Warwick, UK) Katie Paterson, Kettle’s Yard (Cambridge, UK) Inside This Desert, BAWAG Contemporary (Vienna) and 100 Billion Suns at Haunch of Venison (London). Her works have been exhibited in major exhibitions such as the Light Show at the Hayward Gallery (London); Dissident Futures, Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts (San Francisco); Light and Landscape at Storm King Art Centre (Hudson Valley, USA); Marking Time at MCA (Sydney) Continuum at James Cohan Gallery (New York) and Altermodern at Tate Britain (UK). She is represented in collections including the Guggenheim (New York) and Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Edinburgh). She lives and works in Berlin.

I think, given the portion of text I’ve highlighted, this show could be described as an art/science effort. For those who like to see their visual art, here’s A Planetary Order (Terrestrial Cloud Globe) from Cullinan’s website ‘Cloud’ page,

Martin John Cullinan's A Planetary Order (Terrestrial Cloud Globe)  [downloaded from]

Martin John Cullinan’s A Planetary Order (Terrestrial Cloud Globe) [downloaded from]

Given the title of Katie Paterson’s piece, As the world turns, I wondered if she was familiar with the US television soap opera of the same name,, but she seems to be from the UK, I don’t think so. In any event, while this image is interesting I suspect the impact of the piece is lost if you can’t hear it (from the Planetary Order exhibition page for Paterson’s piece),

katie paterson: as the world turns, prepared record player, 2011 photo © peter mallet courtesy haunch of venison, london

katie paterson: as the world turns, prepared record player, 2011
photo © peter mallet
courtesy haunch of venison, london


Finally, here’s one of the Rebecca Partridge pieces from the Planetary Order exhibition page for Partidges’s piece),

rebecca partridge: notes on the sea: day- part 1, II, oil on board, 70 x 56 cm, 2013

rebecca partridge: notes on the sea: day- part 1, II, oil on board, 70 x 56 cm, 2013

You can find out more about the Christian Ehrentraut Gallery and A Planetary Order here, Martin John Cullinan and his work here,, Katie Paterson and her work here, and Rebecca Partridge and her work here. If you should happen to be in Berlin, I imagine the artists and the gallery owner would be happy to see you either at the opening or at some time from January 10 – February 15, 2013.

This all brought to mind a song written by Leonard Cohen, First We Take Manhattan (then, we take Berlin). Here’s Cohen performing the song in July 2013 in Berlin. You can get a better quality *sound by searching YouTube for other videos but I don’t think anything can top this Berlin crowd’s appreciation and Cohen’s response to it,

This runs a little longer than most of the videos I embed here at approximately 6.5 mins.

* ‘sounding by searching YouTube’ was changed to ‘sound by searching YouTube for other videos’ on Jan. 3, 2014 at 4:41 pm PDT.

Sculplexity: 3D printing explains theoretical physics

An example of sculplexity (3D printed data visualization of concepts in theoretical physics),

3D Printed Forest Fire Model. Caption: Researchers have successfully demonstrated how complex theoretical physics can be transformed into a physical object using a 3D printer. Credit: Imperial College London/EPL

3D Printed Forest Fire Model. Caption: Researchers have successfully demonstrated how complex theoretical physics can be transformed into a physical object using a 3D printer. Credit: Imperial College London/EPL

A Dec. 9, 2013  Institute of Physics (IOP) news release (also on EurekAlert, dated Dec. 8, 2013) tells the story behind sculplexity,

In a new study published today, 9 December [2013], in the journal EPL, the researchers have successfully demonstrated how complex theoretical physics can be transformed into a physical object using a 3D printer.

In just eight hours and at the cost of around 15 euros, they were able to use a commercially available 3D printer to create their own 8 cm3 object based on a mathematical model that described how forest fires can be started and how they eventually spread over time.

The researchers have labelled the approach “Sculplexity”—standing for sculptures of complexity—and believe it could also be used to produce works of art based on science, or transform the way that ideas and concepts are presented and discussed within the scientific community.

Co-author of the study Dr Tim Evans, a theoretical physicist at Imperial, said: “The work was inspired by a visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London where I came across the first ever 3D printed object the museum had acquired.

“The object was a table inspired by the tree-like structures found in nature, which is an example of a branching process that is commonly encountered in complex systems in theoretical physics. This led me to think, what other processes familiar to physics could be turned into a 3D printed object?”

The news release goes on to explain a little about complex systems and discusses the ’3D Printed Forest Fire Model’ illustrated in the above,

Complex systems are made up of many parts that interact on many time and length scales and which show coherent behaviour and certain patterns on a large scale. A living organism is the best example of a complex system, whereby the individual parts—in this case the molecular processes in the cell — interact with each other and contribute to much larger processes on a macroscopic scale.

The interactions at play in many complex systems can be mapped out onto a two-dimensional grid which is divided into identical squares, or “cells”. Each of the cells can exist in a certain state and evolve over time, which is governed by a certain set of rules.

In their study, the researchers used a forest fire as an example, in which each cell represented a tree which could either be alive, dead or burning. The exact state that each cell occupied over time depended on a set of rules, which took into account the cell’s proximity to other cells that may be burning or if it was struck by lightning.

“The basic idea is simple,” continued Dr Evans. “A 3D printer builds up its object in layers. So the height of the object can be thought of as time. Suppose you have a mathematical model which defines a flat, two-dimensional picture that evolves in time — typically this will be a grid with some squares full and some empty.

“The mathematical model will define at each point in time what the printer should print at one height. The next step in the model will then define what to print on top of the first layer, and so forth. The result is a 3D object which shows how the mathematical model has evolved over time.”

The resulting model the researchers created was not without glitches; however, Dr Evans believes the experience has allowed them to identify the obstacles, formulate solutions and inspire the physics community to “get creative”.

“In our own group at Imperial we are trying to explain heartbeat anomalies by looking at simple models for the behaviour of individual cells in heart muscle — it’s possible that this could be visualised using 3D printing. Most models that represent the spread of disease could also be visualised.

“There may be many other examples and we just hope our rather literal translation from theoretical model to 3D printer output stimulates others to get creative,” Dr Evans concluded.

This is a very interesting approach to data visualization. The researchers’ paper is well illustrated and includes an image of object (“a table inspired by the tree-like structures found in nature, which is an example of a branching process that is commonly encountered in complex systems”) which inspired to Dr. Evans’ project,

Sculplexity: Sculptures of Complexity using 3D printing by D. S. Reiss, J. J. Price and T. S. Evans.  EPL (Europhysics Letters) Volume 104 Number 4, EPL 104 48001 doi:10.1209/0295-5075/104/48001

At the time of this writing (Dec. 11, 2013), this paper is open access.

Big bucks for visual analytics at Simon Fraser University (Canada) and at the University of British Columbia (Canada) + a job posting

Apparently, visual analytics are a step beyond visual data. And, Vancouver is an important centre for this activity or so the Dec. 2, 2013 Simon Fraser University (SFU) news release claims,

A new lab being established at Simon Fraser University will advance research and become a hub for training and education in visual analytics, further developing the emerging field.

SFU’s Visual Analytics Research and Instructional Labs (VARI Labs) will be housed in SFU’s IRMACS facility and managed by the Vancouver Institute for Visual Analytics (VIVA), a joint SFU-UBC [University of British Columbia] institute. A similar lab will be housed at UBC at the Media and Graphics Interdisciplinary Centre (MAGIC) in the Institute for Computing, Information and Cognitive Systems (ICICS).

Western Economic Diversification Canada is providing $513,141 in funding for the labs. Another $1.5 million in-kind contribution is coming from IBM, $616,000 from funding The Boeing Company had previously pledged to VIVA and a further $303,000 in future operating revenue and working capital, to round out the total project cost at nearly $3 million.

The lab will also host the secure cloud infrastructure necessary to transfer visual analytics science from academia to industries and organizations in Western Canada.

VIVA is the Canadian leader in research and education at the cutting edge of scientific and technological innovation in visual analytics. [emphasis mine]

Visual analytics, or VA, is the science of analytical reasoning facilitated by the use of interactive interfaces.

VIVA’s focus is on effectively applying VA solutions to the actual problems faced by industry and government, a process that draws on interdisciplinary research within the School of Interactive Arts and Technology, the School of Computing Science and within a range of other departments across SFU.

“In addition to delivering industry-specific workshops to groups in healthcare, aerospace, energy, security and others, the VARI lab will enable us to develop additional courses for live and internet delivery,” says VIVA Director Fred Popowich, a professor in SFU’s School of Computing Science.

“We will continue to grow our support for academic programs at both institutions and provide support involving access for students to data and tools at each of the VARI labs, as well as opportunities for paid projects and internships, in collaboration with VIVA’s industry partners and institutional partners, like MITACS.”

Popowich says the many partners supporting the creation of the VARI lab have provided VIVA, students and the community with an advanced, flexible infrastructure for VA research, training and education.

“This forward looking private cloud delivery platform allows VIVA to engage with students and researchers at SFU and UBC,” he adds, noting the virtual nature of the platform extends it to other partners and members of VIVA throughout Western Canada, including Oceans Network Canada in Victoria and universities that are part of the growing CANVAC Network, such as the University of Calgary.

“Thanks to advanced tools for data management and security, this private cloud platform can serve as the basis for secure research data management that will improve access for researchers, and allow for data-driven research and innovation.”

Adds SFU V-P Research Mario Pinto: “We are grateful to the Government of Canada, IBM, and Boeing Canada for this investment. Having these tools available at SFU and UBC builds upon each institution’s considerable strengths in collaborative research and innovation and increases experiential learning opportunities for students in this in-demand field.

“Organizations from diverse sectors across Western Canada stand to benefit from the resulting growth in capacity of visual analytics expertise right here in British Columbia.”

• Researchers set out VIVA’s agenda nearly a decade ago and have been advancing research and education ever since. Created in 2010 through a gift of $1.25 million (US) over five years from The Boeing Company, VIVA is the national leader in scientific and technological innovation in VA, addressing the issues surrounding big data and Canadian industry and government.

• SFU is internationally known as a leader in VA and has established a Canada Research Chair in Visual Analytics.

It’s nice the Canadian leader in this field is in Vancouver but according to the CANVAC (Canadian Network for Visual Analytics) homepage,, there are 12 centres in Canada and that doesn’t seem like a lot of competition. As for SFU being a world leader ((no word about UBC’s ranking)) in this field, strangely (to me), no claim is made about Canada’s world leadership.

I was hoping to find more information about SFU’s leadership this job description posted for SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology,

Canada Research Chair Tier I in Visual Analytics

November 18, 2013

School of Interactive Arts and Technology

Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology

We invite applications from leading scholars for a Canada Research Chair Tier I position in Visual Analytics. Visual Analytics is the science of analytical reasoning facilitated by interactive visual interfaces. It is an interdisciplinary field that draws upon a range of disciplines including Information Design, Visualisation, Cognitive and Perceptual Sciences, Data Analysis, and others.

SFU is internationally known as a leader in visual analytics. [emphasis mine] SIAT researchers are at the core of the Vancouver Institute for Visual Analytics (VIVA), a multi-university consortium hosted by SFU to support collaboration in VA across universities in BC. VIVA affiliates bridge fundamental cognitive and vision science research with advanced software development in applications that include scientific research, advanced manufacturing, aircraft safety, public health, financial risk, and emergency management.  With support from the Boeing Company, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and federal sources, VIVA has been a leader in promoting visual analytics across Canada and is working with industrial sponsors to establish a national aerospace research consortium.

The CRC Tier I Chair is a highly prestigious position for distinguished scholars. Only senior investigators with outstanding publications will be considered and the applicant is expected to make an application for a Tier 1 CRC within the first year of appointment.  Candidates should demonstrate a strong record of academic accomplishments and the capability to provide leadership to SFUs Visual Analytics community and its collaborators in BC and across Canada. Applicants should be eligible for appointment at the rank of Full Professor and have the terminal degree in their discipline (normally a Ph.D.) in a field relevant to Visual Analytics. The applicant will have an opportunity to establish collaboration with and complement other research areas of strength within our School, including interaction design, human computer interaction, computer aided design, sustainable design, health informatics, cognitive and perceptual science, and learning analytics.

SIAT is a vibrant, multidisciplinary program connecting computing, media and design. SIAT’s teaching and research draw upon fields ranging from cognitive science, media arts, electronic games, design and interactive technology. SIAT offers degrees at bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels, and is the home of the SFU Visual Analytics graduate certificate program. The School currently enrolls about 800 undergraduates and approximately 110 graduate students, over 65 of whom are at the doctoral level. SIAT’s infrastructure includes purpose-built, state-of-the-art classrooms and laboratories at SFU’s Surrey campus.

Simon Fraser University at Surrey is the University’s newest campus located in the greater Vancouver region of British Columbia. The area is home to Canada’s cultural and entertainment industry and much of its digital media production. The region’s rich cultural, natural and intellectual resources make it one of the world’s most desirable places to live and work. SIAT works as a unit of the Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology (FCAT), which additionally includes the School of Communication, The School of Contemporary Arts, The Master of Publishing Program and the Master’s in Digital Media Program (MDM). In Visual Analytics area, SIAT faculty collaborate closely with colleagues from School of Computing Science in the Faculty of Applied Sciences.

All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadians and permanent residents will be given priority. Simon Fraser University is committed to employment equity and encourages applications from all qualified men and women, including visible minorities, aboriginal peoples, and persons with disabilities. The successful candidate will begin work on 1 September 2014. Screening of applicants will commence on January 1, 2014 and will continue until position is filled. The successful applicant will develop with the Simon Fraser University the Canada Research Chair application for the October 2014 deadline. All appointments are subject to the availability of funding.

Applicants should seek additional information, about the School at to understand better the character of SIAT and their possible contributions within it.

To apply, candidates should send a recent curriculum vitae, a concise description of their research area and program, a statement of their teaching philosophy to:

Dr. Marek Hatala, Director
School of Interactive Arts and Technology
Simon Fraser University
250-13450 102nd Avenue
Surrey, BC CANADA V3T 0A3

Email: [email protected]

CC: [email protected]

Contact information for three academic referees will be requested of candidates moving to the second stage.

Under authority of the University Act personal information that is required by the university for academic appointment competitions will be collected. For further details see:

Unfortunately, only a simple declaration (the same as in the news release) “SFU is internationally known as a leader in visual analytics”, is made with no supporting information. Maybe one day we will find out what makes SFU a world leader in visual analytics (VA).

I did manage to find some more information about VA from the About Visual Analytics page on the VIVA (Vancouver Institute for Visual Analytics) website (Note: Bibliographic references have been removed),

Visual analytics (VA) was initially proposed as a means to help United States intelligence analysts meet the challenge of dealing with the masses of security-related information made available to them following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. They literally were lost in a data deluge.

Visual analytics is defined as “the science of analytical reasoning facilitated by interactive visual interfaces.

It is a multidisciplinary field intended to help people understand how to synthesize information in order to derive insights from massive, dynamic, ambiguous, and often conflicting data. In practice, it helps skilled analysts rapidly explore large, complex data sets to gain new insights using interactive visualizations. It draws upon research in a number of relevant areas, including information visualization, human computer interaction, machine learning, statistics, and cognitive science.


  • Raw data has little intrinsic value.
  • Data mining can help find expected patterns, e.g., prospect for gold and find gold in the data.
  • Visual analytics will help analysts see and explore their data to not only find the expected, but also discover the unexpected, e.g., look for gold and find gold, but also possibly find silver or copper in the same data.

Humans have very impressive visual and cognitive capabilities, but humans change very slowly, e.g., brain volume has only doubled in approximately 2.5 x 106 years.

Computing technology, however, has been changing very quickly, e.g., Moore’s Law demonstrates that integrated circuit capacity has consistently doubled in approximately 2 years periods.

One goal of visual analytics is to build better tools and develop better methods to take advantage of human visual and cognitive problem solving capabilities.

Getting back to this new facility, VARI (Visual Analytics Research and Instructional Labs), it will be located at SFU’s  Interdisciplinary Research in the Mathematical and Computational Sciences (IRMACS) Centre on the university’s Burnaby Mountain campus. As for the new facility mentioned for UBC, I’ve not not been able to find any information about it.

Accessing data the Marvel (comic book) way: uberframeworks and graphs

For want of a better term I’m going to be calling the company, Marvel. It is an entertainment conglomerate based in the world of comic books and comic book heroes and the company has a data problem as David Lumb points out in his Nov. 27, 2013 article for Fast Company (Note: A link has been removed),

After 70 years of publishing, Marvel Entertainment has built up an incredible universe of heroes, villains, and super teams–a sea of data that no mere wiki can organize. At long last, Marvel has embarked on a mighty quest of its own: to create an entirely new graph database and search system to conquer continuity malaise by visualizing each character across the Marvel Universe.

Here’s how Lumb describes the problem,

The problem, like with any massive chunk of data, lies in getting the right data pieces in front of users–but for Marvel, the question becomes a semantic exercise. Just who is the character Hawkeye?

Well, he’s Clint Barton, except when he’s not; erstwhile sidekick Kate Bishop and villain Bullseye have taken the Hawkeye identity. He’s a member of the Avengers, except when he’s not; he’s also been part of the Thunderbolts and West Coast Avengers. He got his skills performing trick shots in a circus, except when he didn’t: He got them as an agent redeeming a murder conviction in the Ultimate universe and as a Black Ops SHIELD agent in the Marvel films.

According to the article, Peter Olson, Marvel’s VP of Web and Application Development, is in charge of developing the new database (Note: A link has been removed),

“We want an uberframework–the words ‘ontology’ and ‘taxonomy’ get thrown around a lot,” Olson said. “We want characters to appear as close to as possible from all their stories and iterations but, overall, we want the characters to bubble up to archetypes.”

Most databases are relational, most easily visualized as tables of rows and columns: … Marvel still has use for this kind of database that returns queries with solid, irrefutable answers, like listing all the issues they’ve sold for the above prices.

The new database, however, will run on graph theory, looking for relationships between characters, teams, and events. The graph above [image removed] displays relationships between characters, which would be extremely difficult for a relational database that might look for superheroes but leave out villains instead of showing more abstract values, like how popular/visible a character is across Marvel’s comic titles.

There is of course a business case for this new approach (Note: Links have been removed from the article excerpt),

… The Marvel graph database will find an answer based not only on book similarities but nuanced metadata, like writer or artist style. Better still, it’ll do what the venerable ComicBookDatabase cannot: confidently propose a list of essential story arcs for the new fan.
And lo, Marvel’s multimedia empire strikes again: Aside from Sony’s death grip on Spider-Man, Marvel holds the rights to all its major characters, so their recommendations aren’t limited to subscriber-only comics on its Marvel Unlimited service. Let loose the hounds of suggested merchandise! Of course, this also means those ultra-streamlined character pages will become the most seamless portals to every character’s stories that the Internet has ever seen.

This is a good article, which I recommend reading in its entirety, although I do have one suggestion for David Lumb and/or his editor,

… the company now depicts the same characters across multiple mediums … [emphasis mine]

The plural in this context (mass communications) should have been media. Mediums are a group of people who communicate with the dead, as one of my professors informed us all in an undergraduate communications course. He was a bit of hardliner on the topic,. I found out later there is a group that uses both; artists use either media or mediums (Grammarist).

Graph Databases, are covered in a Wikipedia essay, which has this to say about them (Note: Links and footnotes have been removed),

A graph database is a database that uses graph structures with nodes, edges, and properties to represent and store data. By definition,[according to whom?] a graph database is any storage system that provides index-free adjacency. This means that every element contains a direct pointer to its adjacent element and no index lookups are necessary.

The essay also offers this illustration,

[Downloaded from:]

[Downloaded from:]

Peter Olson, the VP who’s managing this new database for Marvel gave a talk at the Nov. 5 – 6, 2013 GraphConnect New York (City) meeting. His talk is described this way on the website (from the GraphConnect 2013 videos webpage),

Graphing the Marvel Universe – Peter Olson @GraphConnect NY 2013

This talk will give an overview of why graphs are such a powerful conceptual framework for modeling intellectual property and how Marvel uses them to represent the 70 years of fictional content from many different media that makes up the Marvel Universe.

The talk is approximately 40 mins. long and you can also find it here on Vimeo.

You can find more information (speakers, agenda, etc.) here about the Nov. 5 – 6, 2013 meeting in New York City and you can find out more about GraphConnect 2013 meetings in Boston, San Francisco, London (UK), and elsewhere by going here.

Visualizing beautiful math

Two artists ,Yann Pineill and Nicolas Lefaucheux, associated with Parachutes, a video production and graphic design studio located in Paris, France, ,have produced a video demonstrating this quote from Bertrand Russell, which is in the opening frame,

“Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music.” — Bertrand Russell

H/t Mark Wilson’s Nov. 6, 2013 article for Fast Company,

One viewing note, the screen is arranged as a tryptich with the mathematical equation on the left, a schematic in the centre, and the real life manifestation on the right. Enjoy!

Visualizing how your online behaviour is being tracked—Emily Carr University’s (Canada) Lightbeam

Before you got too excited this visualization tool is an add-on for Mozilla’s Firefox. That said, this seems pretty nifty, from the Oct. 30, 2013 Emily Carr University news release (Note: A link was removed),

“Emily Carr University’s visualization research for Lightbeam enables users to understand their personal relationship to online tracking,” says Emily Carr’s Amber Frid-Jimenez, Associate Professor, Faculty of Design + Dynamic Media.  She continues: “Our visualizations for Lightbeam will contribute to increased transparency about how personal information is collected and propagated by third parties, a key issue of online privacy.”

Here’s what one of the visualizations looks like,

Hypothesis 1: Browsing History [downloaded from]

Hypothesis 1: Browsing History [downloaded from]

The design team has this to say about the visualization (from their Hypothesis 1 webpage),

hypothesis #1
The Clock design aims to engage people who aren’t currently interested in privacy issues. The tool allows people to explore their own personal internet browsing history in daily, weekly, monthly and more longterm views.

There are more details about the Lightbeam project and the research team, from the news release,

Emily Carr University Research announces the launch of Lightbeam, a new Add-on for the popular Firefox browser that enables users to visualize online data tracking in real time. Mozilla, the developer of Firefox, partnered with the University on a year-long research project to improve Lightbeam’s interactive visualizations. The Emily Carr University team was led by Associate Professor Amber Frid-Jimenez, who worked with student design researchers Sabrina Ng, Joakim Sundal and Heather Tsang and a group of developers at Mozilla, led by Dethe Elza, to develop the visualizations of of the tool which will shed light on the online collection of information by third parties. This research was supported by the Ford Foundation, the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Mozilla Foundation, and is a project of the Social + Interactive Media (SIM) Centre, headed by Kate Armstrong.

The research team focused on three key areas of the visualization:

  • Browsing history: to interest users in privacy issues with an interface that facilitates exploration of their past browsing history and the third party connections that have been involved in this data;
  • Deep dive into time: to provide experts, power-users and those already interested in privacy issues with an interface that explores their relationships with trackers, and their enabling Web sites, to reveal patterns in the near term or over larger anonymized, aggregated datasets in the future;
  • Metrics as widgets: to provide users with an interface that displays simple figures and browsing history in real-time as single numbers and visual graphs.

The Lightbeam visualizations demonstrate the forward-looking research in social and interactive design provided by Emily Carr University. The Lightbeam visualizations will be important to helping web users understand the role of third party data tracking that shapes so much of the web and make informed choices about their data collection practices.

For anyone who wants to see the press package, you can find everything including the news release and images here.

While Emily Carr University is well known locally, it should be said that it’s located in Vancouver, Canada and it’s official name is Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

Chart junk: rethinking science data visualization

Which of these visualizations will you remember later? (Images courtesy of Michelle Borkin, Harvard SEAS.)

Which of these visualizations will you remember later? (Images courtesy of Michelle Borkin, Harvard SEAS.)

This chart of data visualization images accompanies an Oct. 16, 2013 news item on ScienceDaily concerning some research into what makes some charts more memorable than others,

It’s easy to spot a “bad” data visualization — one packed with too much text, excessive ornamentation, gaudy colors, and clip art. Design guru Edward Tufte derided such decorations as redundant at best, useless at worst, labeling them “chart junk.” Yet a debate still rages among visualization experts: Can these reviled extra elements serve a purpose?

Taking a scientific approach to design, researchers from Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology are offering a new take on that debate. The same design elements that attract so much criticism, they report, can also make a visualization more memorable.

Detailed results were presented this week at the IEEE Information Visualization (InfoVis) conference in Atlanta, hosted by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

The Oct. 16, 2013 School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) Harvard University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, details some of the ways in which the researchers attempted to study data visualizations and memorability (Note: Links from the news release to be found on the SEAS website have been removed),

For lead author Michelle Borkin, a doctoral student at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), memorability has a particular importance:

“I spend a lot of my time reading these scientific papers, so I have to wonder, when I walk away from my desk, what am I going to remember? Which of the figures and visualizations in these publications are going to stick with me?”

But it’s more than grad-school anxiety. Working at the interface of computer science and psychology, Borkin specializes in the visual representation of data, looking for the best ways to communicate and interpret complex information. The applications of her work have ranged from astronomy to medical diagnostics and may already help save lives.

Her adviser, Hanspeter Pfister, An Wang Professor of Computer Science at Harvard SEAS, was intrigued by the chart junk debate, which has flared up on design blogs and at visualization conferences year after year.

Together, they turned to Aude Oliva, a principal research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, and a cognitive psychologist by training. Oliva’s lab has been studying visual memory for about six years now. Her team has found that in photographs, faces and human-centric scenes are typically easy to remember; landscapes are not.

“All of us are sensitive to the same kinds of images, and we forget the same kind as well,” Oliva says. “We like to believe our memories are unique, that they’re like the soul of a person, but in certain situations it’s as if we have the same algorithm in our heads that is going to be sensitive to a particular type of image. So when you find a result like this in photographs, you want to know: is it generalizable to many types of materials—words, sound, images, graphs?”

“Speaking with [Pfister] and his group, it became very exciting, the idea that we could study what makes a visualization memorable or not,” Oliva recalls. “If it turned out to be the same for everyone, we thought this would be a win-win result.”

For Oliva’s group, it would provide more evidence of cognitive similarities in the brain’s visual processing, from person to person. For Pfister’s group, it could suggest that certain design principles make visualizations inherently more memorable than others.

With Harvard students Azalea A. Vo ’13 and Shashank Sunkavalli SM ’13, as well as MIT graduate students Zoya Bylinskii and Phillip Isola, the team designed a large-scale study—in the form of an online game—to rigorously measure the memorability of a wide variety of visualizations. They collected more than 5,000 charts and graphics from scientific papers, design blogs, newspapers, and government reports and manually categorized them by a wide range of attributes. Serving them up in brief glimpses—just one second each—to participants via Amazon Mechanical Turk, the researchers tested the influence of features like color, density, and content themes on users’ ability to recognize which ones they had seen before.

The results meshed well with Oliva’s previous results, but added several new insights.

“A visualization will be instantly and overwhelmingly more memorable if it incorporates an image of a human-recognizable object—if it includes a photograph, people, cartoons, logos—any component that is not just an abstract data visualization,” says Pfister. “We learned that any time you have a graphic with one of those components, that’s the most dominant thing that affects the memorability.”

Visualizations that were visually dense proved memorable, as did those that used many colors. Other results were more surprising.

“You’d think the types of charts you’d remember best are the ones you learned in school—the bar charts, pie charts, scatter plots, and so on,” Borkin says. “But it was the opposite.”

Unusual types of charts, like tree diagrams, network diagrams, and grid matrices, were actually more memorable.

“If you think about those types of diagrams—for example, tree diagrams that show relationships between species, or diagrams that explain a molecular chemical process—every one of them is going to be a little different, but the branching structures feel very natural to us,” explains Borkin. “That combination of the familiar and the unique seems to influence the memorability.”

The best type of chart to use will always depend on the data, but for designers who are required to work within a certain style—for example, to achieve a recognizable consistency within a magazine—the results may be reassuring.

“A graph can be simple or complex, and they both can be memorable,” explains Oliva. “You can make something familiar either by keeping it simple or by having a little story around it. It’s not really that you should choose to use one color or many, or to include additional ornaments or not. If you need to keep it simple because it’s the style your boss likes or the style of your publication, you can still find a way to make it memorable.”

At this stage, however, the team hesitates to issue any sweeping design guidelines for an obvious reason: memorability isn’t the only thing that matters. Visualizations must also be accurate, easy to comprehend, aesthetically pleasing, and appropriate to the context.

“A memorable visualization is not necessarily a good visualization,” Borkin cautions. “As a community we need to keep asking these types of questions: What makes a visualization engaging? What makes it comprehensible?”

As for the chart junk, she says diplomatically, “I think it’s going to be an ongoing debate.”

I believe Michelle Borkin is the lead author of an unpublished (as yet) paper submitted to the 2013 IEEE Information Visualization (InfoVis) conference, which means I can’t offer a link to or a citation for the paper.

Ouch, my brain hurts! Information overload in the neurosciences

Alcino Silva, a professor of neurobiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, has been working on the information overload problem in neuroscience for almost 30 years. In Silva’s latest effort he and his team are designing and testing  research maps, from the Aug. 8, 2013 news item  on ScienceDaily,

Before the digital age, neuroscientists got their information in the library like the rest of us. But the field’s explosion has created nearly 2 million papers — more data than any researcher can read and absorb in a lifetime.

That’s why a UCLA [University of California at Los Angeles] team has invented research maps. Equipped with an online app, the maps help neuroscientists quickly scan what is already known and plan their next study. The Aug. 8 edition of Neuron describes the findings.

The Aug. 8, 2013 UCLA news release written by Elaine Schmidt, which originated the news item, provides details about the team’s strategy for developing and testing this new tool,

Silva collaborated with Anthony Landreth, a former UCLA postdoctoral fellow, to create maps that offer simplified, interactive and unbiased summaries of research findings designed to help neuroscientists in choosing what to study next. As a testing ground for their maps, the team focused on findings in molecular and cellular cognition.

UCLA programmer Darin Gilbert Nee also created a Web-based app to help scientists expand and interact with their field’s map.

“We founded research maps on a crowd-sourcing strategy in which individual scientists add papers that interest them to a growing map of their fields,” said Silva, who started working on the problem nearly 30 years ago as a graduate student and who wrote, along with Landreth, an upcoming Oxford Press book on the subject. “Each map is interactive and searchable; scientists see as much of the map as they query, much like an online search.”

According to Silva, the map allows scientists to zero in on areas that interest them. By tracking published findings, researchers can determine what’s missing and pinpoint worthwhile experiments to pursue.

“Just as a GPS map offers different levels of zoom, a research map would allow a scientist to survey a specific research area at different levels of resolution — from coarse summaries to fine-grained accounts of experimental results,” Silva said. “The map would display no more and no less detail than is necessary for the researcher’s purposes.”

Each map encodes information by classifying it into categories and scoring the weight of its evidence based on key criteria, such as reproducibility and “convergence” — when different experiments point to a single conclusion.

The team’s next step will be to automate the map-creation process. As scientists publish papers, their findings will automatically be added to the research map representing their field.

According to Silva, automation could be achieved by using journals’ existing publication process to divide an article’s findings into smaller chapters and build “nano-publications.” Publishers would use a software plug-in to render future papers machine-readable.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the published paper,

The Need for Research Maps to Navigate Published Work and Inform Experiment Planning by Anthony Landreth and Alcino J. Silva.  Neuron, Volume 79, Issue 3, 411-415, 7 August 2013 doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2013.07.024

Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

I have provided a link to the HTML with thumbnail images version of the paper, which appears to  be open access (at least for now). I found this paper to be quite readable, from the Introduction,

The amount of published research in neuroscience has grown to be massive. The past three decades have accumulated more than 1.6 million articles alone. The rapid expansion of the published record has been accompanied by an unprecedented widening of the range of concepts, approaches, and techniques that individual neuroscientists are expected to be familiar with. The cutting edge of neuroscience is increasingly defined by studies demanding researchers in one area (e.g., molecular and cellular neuroscience) to have more than a passing familiarity with the tools, concepts, and literature of other areas (e.g., systems or behavioral neuroscience). [emphasis mine] As research relevant to a topic expands, it becomes increasingly more likely that researchers will be either overwhelmed or unaware of relevant results (or both).

Interestingly, neither author not any other team members (in addition to Nee, John Bickle, not mentioned in the news release, has co-written the forthcoming book with Silva and Landreth) mentioned seem to have any background in library or archival sciences or in information architecture or records management, all fields where people deal with massive amounts of information and accessibility issues. For example, the US National and Records Administration (NARA) is developing a data visualization tool (Action Science Explorer; my Dec. 9, 2011 posting profiles this project) to address some very similar issues to those faced in the neuroscience community.