Category Archives: visual data

Mathematicians get illustrative

Frank A. Farris, an associate Professor of Mathematics at Santa Clara University (US), writes about the latest in mathematicians and data visualization in an April 4, 2017 essay on The Conversation (Note: Links have been removed),

Today, digital tools like 3-D printing, animation and virtual reality are more affordable than ever, allowing mathematicians to investigate and illustrate their work at the same time. Instead of drawing a complicated surface on a chalkboard, we can now hand students a physical model to feel or invite them to fly over it in virtual reality.

Last year, a workshop called “Illustrating Mathematics” at the Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics (ICERM) brought together an eclectic group of mathematicians and digital art practitioners to celebrate what seems to be a golden age of mathematical visualization. Of course, visualization has been central to mathematics since Pythagoras, but this seems to be the first time it had a workshop of its own.

Visualization plays a growing role in mathematical research. According to John Sullivan at the Technical University of Berlin, mathematical thinking styles can be roughly categorized into three groups: “the philosopher,” who thinks purely in abstract concepts; “the analyst,” who thinks in formulas; and “the geometer,” who thinks in pictures.

Mathematical research is stimulated by collaboration between all three types of thinkers. Many practitioners believe teaching should be calibrated to connect with different thinking styles.

Borromean Rings, the logo of the International Mathematical Union. John Sullivan

Sullivan’s own work has benefited from images. He studies geometric knot theory, which involves finding “best” configurations. For example, consider his Borromean rings, which won the logo contest of the International Mathematical Union several years ago. The rings are linked together, but if one of them is cut, the others fall apart, which makes it a nice symbol of unity.

Apparently this new ability to think mathematics visually has influenced mathematicians in some unexpected ways,

Take mathematician Fabienne Serrière, who raised US$124,306 through Kickstarter in 2015 to buy an industrial knitting machine. Her dream was to make custom-knit scarves that demonstrate cellular automata, mathematical models of cells on a grid. To realize her algorithmic design instructions, Serrière hacked the code that controls the machine. She now works full-time on custom textiles from a Seattle studio.

In this sculpture by Edmund Harriss, the drill traces are programmed to go perpendicular to the growth rings of the tree. This makes the finished sculpture a depiction of a concept mathematicians know as ‘paths of steepest descent.’ Edmund Harriss, Author provided

Edmund Harriss of the University of Arkansas hacked an architectural drilling machine, which he now uses to make mathematical sculptures from wood. The control process involves some deep ideas from differential geometry. Since his ideas are basically about controlling a robot arm, they have wide application beyond art. According to his website, Harriss is “driven by a passion to communicate the beauty and utility of mathematical thinking.”

Mathematical algorithms power the products made by Nervous System, a studio in Massachusetts that was founded in 2007 by Jessica Rosenkrantz, a biologist and architect, and Jess Louis-Rosenberg, a mathematician. Many of their designs, for things like custom jewelry and lampshades, look like naturally occurring structures from biology or geology.

Farris’ essay is a fascinating look at mathematics and data visualization.

The role of empathy in science communication has a Dec. 12, 2016 essay by Nicole Miller-Struttmann on the topic of empathy and science communication,

Science communication remains as challenging as it is necessary in the era of big data. Scientists are encouraged to reach out to non-experts through social media, collaborations with citizen scientists, and non-technical abstracts. As a science enthusiast (and extrovert), I truly enjoy making these connections and having conversations that span expertise, interests and geographic barriers. However, recent divisive and impassioned responses to the surprising election results in the U.S. made me question how effective these approaches are for connecting with the public.

Are we all just stuck in our own echo chambers, ignoring those that disagree with us?

How do we break out of these silos to reach those that disengage from science or stop listening when we focus on evidence? Particularly evidence that is increasingly large in volume and in scale? Recent research suggests that a few key approaches might help: (1) managing our social media use with purpose, (2) tailoring outreach efforts to a distinct public, and (3) empathizing with our audience(s) in a deep, meaningful way.

The essay, which originally appeared on the PLOS Ecology Community blog in a Dec. 9, 2016 posting, goes on to discuss social media, citizen science/crowdsourcing, design thinking, and next gen data visualization (Note: Links have been removed),

Many of us attempt to broaden our impact by sharing interesting studies with friends, family, colleagues, and the broader public on social media. While the potential to interact directly with non-experts through social media is immense, confirmation bias (the tendency to interpret and share information that supports one’s existing beliefs) provides a significant barrier to reaching non-traditional and contrarian publics. Insights from network analyses suggest that these barriers can be overcome by managing our connections and crafting our messages carefully. …

Technology has revolutionized how the public engages in science, particularly data acquisition, interpretation and dissemination. The potential benefits of citizen science and crowd sourcing projects are immense, but there are significant challenges as well. Paramount among them is the reliance on “near-experts” and amateur scientists. Domroese and Johnson (2016) suggest that understanding what motivates citizen scientists to get involved – not what we think motivates them – is the first step to deepening their involvement and attracting diverse participants.

Design Thinking may provide a framework for reaching diverse and under-represented publics. While similar to scientific thinking in several ways,

design thinking includes a crucial step that scientific thinking does not: empathizing with your audience.

It requires that the designer put themselves in the shoes of their audience, understand what motivates them (as Domroese and Johnson suggest), consider how they will interact with and perceive the ‘product’, and appeal to the perspective. Yajima (2015) summarizes how design thinking can “catalyze scientific innovation” but also why it might be a strange fit for scientists. …

Connecting the public to big data is particularly challenging, as the data are often complex with multifaceted stories to tell. Recent work suggests that art-based, interactive displays are more effective at fostering understanding of complex issues, such as climate change.

Thomsen (2015) explains that by eliciting visceral responses and stimulating the imagination, interactive displays can deepen understanding and may elicit behavioral changes.

I recommend reading this piece in its entirety as Miller-Struttmann presents a more cohesive description of current science communication practices and ideas than is sometimes the case.

Final comment, I would like to add one suggestion and that’s the adoption of an attitude of ‘muscular’ empathy. People are going to disagree with you, sometimes quite strongly (aggressively), and it can be very difficult to maintain communication with people who don’t want (i.e., reject) the communication. Maintaining empathy in the face of failure and rejection which can extend for decades or longer requires a certain muscularity

Nanoparticle snapshots with femtosecond photography

Caption: Here are "stills" from an X-ray "movie" of an exploding nanoparticle. The nanoparticle is superheated with an intense optical pulse and subsequently explodes (left). A series of ultrafast x-ray diffraction images (right) maps the process and contains information how the explosion starts with surface softening and proceeds from the outside in. Credit: Christoph Bostedt

Caption: Here are “stills” from an X-ray “movie” of an exploding nanoparticle. The nanoparticle is superheated with an intense optical pulse and subsequently explodes (left). A series of ultrafast x-ray diffraction images (right) maps the process and contains information how the explosion starts with surface softening and proceeds from the outside in. Credit: Christoph Bostedt

A Feb. 10, 2016 news item on Nanotechnology Now provides more information about the ‘snapshots,

Just as a photographer needs a camera with a split-second shutter speed to capture rapid motion, scientists looking at the behavior of tiny materials need special instruments with the capacity to see changes that happen in the blink of an eye.

An international team of researchers led by X-ray scientist Christoph Bostedt of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and Tais Gorkhover of DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory used two special lasers to observe the dynamics of a small sample of xenon as it was heated to a plasma.

A Feb. 10, 2016 Argonne National Laboratory news release (also on EurekAlert) by Jared Sagoff, which originated the news item, provides more technical details,

Bostedt and Gorkhover were able to use the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) at SLAC to make observations of the sample in time steps of approximately a hundred femtoseconds – a femtosecond being one millionth of a billionth of a second [emphasis mine]. The exposure time of the individual images was so short that the quickly moving particles in the gas phase appeared frozen. “The advantage of a machine like the LCLS is that it gives us the equivalent of high-speed flash photography as opposed to a pinhole camera,” Bostedt said. The LCLS is a DOE Office of Science User Facility.

The researchers used an optical laser to heat the sample cluster and an X-ray laser to probe the dynamics of the cluster as it changed over time. As the laser heated the cluster, the photons freed electrons initially bound to the atoms; however, these electrons still remained loosely bound to the cluster.

By imaging exploding nanoparticles, the team was able to make measurements of how they change over time in extreme environments. “Ultimately, we want to understand how the energy from the light affects the system,” Gorkhover said.

“There are really no other techniques that give us this good a resolution in both time and space simultaneously,” she added. “Other methods require us to take averages over many different ‘exposures,’ which can obscure relevant details. Additionally, techniques like electron microscopy involve a substrate material that can interfere with the behavior of the sample.”

According to Bostedt, the research could also impact the study of aerosols in the environment or in combustion, as the dual-laser “pump and probe” model could be adapted to study materials in the gas phase. “Although our material goes from solid to plasma very quickly, there are other types of materials you could study with this or a similar technique,” he said.

I marvel at how very brief the time intervals are at the femtoscale and for that matter, the other subatomic scales.

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

Femtosecond and nanometre visualization of structural dynamics in superheated nanoparticles by Tais Gorkhover, Sebastian Schorb, Ryan Coffee, Marcus Adolph, Lutz Foucar, Daniela Rupp, Andrew Aquila, John D. Bozek, Sascha W. Epp, Benjamin Erk, Lars Gumprecht, Lotte Holmegaard, Andreas Hartmann, Robert Hartmann, Günter Hauser, Peter Holl, Andre Hömke, Per Johnsson, Nils Kimmel, Kai-Uwe Kühnel, Marc Messerschmidt, Christian Reich, Arnaud Rouzée, Benedikt Rudek, Carlo Schmidt et al. Nature Photonics 10, 93–97 (2016) doi:10.1038/nphoton.2015.264 Published online 25 January 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

LaBiotechMap (a map of European biotechnology companies)

Thanks to Joachim Eeckhout of the LaBiotechMap team for contacting me regarding his and co-founder Philip Hemme’s European  biotechnology company map.

You can find the map here and for those who need an incentive to explore, here’s a bit of information and a few images from the site’s homepage to whet your interest,

It’s Elegant.

We spent time designing the map. And it’s apparent. Benefit from its unique user experience and finally enjoy surfing through Biotech companies.

It’s Focused.

Instead of gathering the universe of Biotech companies, we offer you a pre-selected galaxy. It results in the most coherent European Biotech Database.

It’s Smart.

Weekly updated, to keep you on track. Searchable, to directly reach your target. Sortable, for high precision.
In a word: Smart.

Here’s a screen capture or representation of the map,


Here’s a screen capture or representation of the database search,


Here’s more about the project from the FAQ (frequently asked questions) page,

What is our definition of a Biotech company?

Biotech is certainly one of the most difficult technological term to define.

For us, Biotech is not all life sciences, neither beer or cheese manufacturing. The gene editing revolution of the 80s gave birth to the term Biotechnology and is linked to the foundation of Genentech in California. Today, Biotechnology have a significant impact on the World by helping cure, feed and fuel people. Ground-breaking technologies includes for example gene therapy, biofuels, monoclonal antibodies, cell therapy and GMOs.

Which are our selection criteria?

Our selection criteria to enter for free on the map is to have raised or generated over €1M and to be innovative (spending high % of revenues in R&D and owning patents).

Can you help us improving it?

Yes, everybody can participate. You saw a company missing, a wrong information, an old information or something else? You can use our feedback page or send us a mail to

Can people stop getting bored by surfing through Biotech companies?

We hope so.

Can I share the map if I like it?

We hope so.

They have a company blog on the website which doesn’t include any dates on the posts (sigh) but I believe their mention of launching the final version of the map in Munich (Munchen, Germany) is relatively recent,

Here we go, we launched the final version of LaBiotech Map in Munich in front of 30 CEOs during a brunch organized by the IZB cluster.

Creating a European Biotech Map may sound crazy, but we like challenges. We started working on it in September 2014 and launched a beta version beginning of November. Within 3 months, we received over 100 exciting feedback and more than 2000 people tried it out. …

I wish the founders and their team good luck with visualizing the biotech company scene in Europe.

Final note: this is not the only European map of its kind, there’s also France’s interactive nanotechnology map featured in my Feb. 4, 2013 posting.

Visual data that’s good enough to eat

John Brownlee in a June 30, 2014 article for Fast Company explores a facet of data visualization upending the notion that this is a purely visual specialty (Note: Links have been removed),

It would be fair to say that visualization maestro Moritz Stefaner eats up data. Over the years, he has used data for everything from identifying the world’s selfiest cities to showing the hidden network stringing together the world’s scientific institutions.

It was probably only a matter of time before Stefaner made his consumption of data literal. Stefaner is now exploring a new frontier in data viz. It’s called Data Cuisine, and it’s all about cooking up infographics that you can literally eat: a pizza that conveys the patterns of 100 years of Italian immigration, for example, or a salmon mousse that explores the environmental impacts of commercial fishing over the past decade.

Here’s one of the dishes you can see should you visit the Data Cuisine website’s Data Dishes webpage,


This fascinating dish provides a multi-layered representation of a simple, but striking statistic: science funding in Spain was cut by a staggering 34% over the last few years.

Antonija Kuzmanic decided to represent this huge drop in funding with two almond cakes (Tortas de Santiago) — based on the same recipe, but prepared differently. The first one was made applying “scientific” techniques (foaming the dough with a siphon and microwaving it for 45 seconds), representing the situation before the cuts, while the second cake represents today.

It was baked in the traditional way without advanced techniques, and turned out considerably drier and denser. In addition, the amount of sugar used in the cakes is proportional to the different amounts of funding in science, resulting in a much less enjoyable experience for the “non-science” cake.


Brownlee’s article offers a good overview of the project, the two organizers Mauritz Stefaner and Susanne Jaschko, and the first two workshops that were held in Helsinki (Nov. 2013) and in Barcelona (June 2014), respectively.

While Data Cuisine seems the best organized of the food data visualization movement, the proponents note other efforts on their Resources and reference projects page.

Keithly’s ‘How Nanotechnology Could Reengineer Us’ infographic*

There’s a rather striking infographic from Keithley, a Tektronix company, making the rounds,

[downloaded from]

[downloaded from]

Difficult to see here, I encourage the curious to check it out here on the company’s website and do keep in mind that this represents aspirational research. Assuming any number of technical difficulties can be surmounted, we may one day be able to repair brains, regrow teeth, etc.

The commentary on Reddit about this infographic is illuminating. From the How Nanotechnology Could Reengineer Us comments  page in Futurology on the website,

Benchtop nano scientist (phd student) here. The choice of r/Futurology [section for this infographic] is a generous one — if there were an r/post-future-ology it might be a more accurate estimate. It is going to take a long, long time to translate “nanotechnology” — however you want to define it — into these medical advances. …

I’m in a nanomolecular engineering class right now, granted that it’s an undergraduate course I can say that the life regeneration aspect is too far in the future. The closest medical implementation I have seen I better targeted drug delivery and even that was all theoretical. And in the classes its just a whole bunch of quantum physics and chemistry and basic engineering tools. Full on regeneration I assume will be at least 20 years. Professors working in the field are even skeptical of the stuff above. Sure they’ll write the stuff in their grants but in reality it’s really far off.

I don’t know if you know much about pur current drug delivery mechanisms by they not as sophisticated as we think they don’t penetrate the cell and certainly have no effect on the DNA. The research I read was targeting the DNA penetrating the cell using a nanomolecular ligands that coated specific silencing RNA. Look up the research it is conducted by Suzie Pun.

I interviewed with Pun at UW when applying for BME PhD programs. Very cool work. I’m going somewhere else for grad school but still working on targeted siRNA delivery.

It has huge potential, but will take quite a long time to make it through the clinic and gain FDA approval.

Getting back to the infographic, I was quite happy to see a list of sources at the bottom. It’s reassuring to see what research they examined before producing their infographic. Too many people and institutions don’t* share the sources for their information.

Here’s some information about Tektronix, Keithley’s parent company, (from the its Wikipedia entry; Note: Links have been removed),

Tektronix, Inc. is an American company best known for manufacturing test and measurement devices such as oscilloscopes, logic analyzers, and video and mobile test protocol equipment. In November 2007, Danaher Corporation acquired Tektronix as a subsidiary.[2]

Here’s more from the About Keithley page,

Keithley, a Tektronix company, designs, develops, manufactures, and markets advanced electrical test instruments and systems for the specialized needs of electronics manufacturers in high-performance production testing, process monitoring, product development, and research.

Keithley has approximately 500 products that are used to source, measure, connect, control, or communicate direct current (DC) or pulsed electrical signals. Product offerings include integrated systems along with instruments and personal computer (PC) plug-in boards that can be used as system components or stand-alone solutions. Keithley customers include scientists and engineers in the worldwide electronics industry involved with advanced materials research, semiconductor device development and fabrication, and the production of end products such as portable wireless devices.

This infographic seems like an interesting public relations ploy as it has certainly gotten the company some attention.

* ‘don’t’ added to sentence on Sept. 29, 2014.

* ‘inforgraphic’ changed to ‘infographic’ on April 23, 2015.

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

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.