Tag Archives: Johanna Kieniewicz

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.

 

 

How to start art/science collaborations (roundup) and an art/engineering festival in Calgary (Canada)

Generally speaking I’ve viewed art/science collaborations from an ‘arts’ perspective so it’s with some interest that I’ve been reading Johanna Kieniewicz’s postings as she has a scientist’s perspective, from her Nov. 22, 2012 posting on the PLoS (Public Library of Science) At the Interface; where art and science meet blog,

Last week, I attended an environmental science conference with an evening reception that featured a short talk on art/science collaborations in the context of environmental science. The talk was followed by a musical performance – inspired by the fragility of peatbog environments – after which I overheard a scientist mutter “What was that? That better not have had research council funding.” He was not the only one; I heard similar sentiments expressed by several others as I walked to dinner.

On some level, I was disappointed by this response, but I wasn’t really surprised. Despite great progress amongst those who are ensconced in the world of science communication to the idea of collaborations between scientists and artists, this is something that many scientists still don’t “get”. Other researchers are openly hostile, and certainly think that scientific research organisations have no business funding this type of work.

To be fair, these are not necessarily the attitudes of people who are disinterested in art — I’d be willing to bet that a fair few of those who walked away from the performance muttering about scientific research council funding being wasted on the arts also have memberships at cultural institutions. That said, whilst being consumers of culture, few scientists really see themselves as having much of a role in its creation. In an increasingly competitive funding landscape, does it really make sense to spend research money on an art project? Does engaging with the arts mean that they are less serious as scientists?

Kieniewicz goes on to give a number of reasons why she thinks art/science collaborations are important, including this one,

Although art cannot directly communicate science or change minds, it can create a space for dialogue around difficult issues.

In a followup Dec. 6, 2012 posting, Kieniewicz goes on to explain how artists and scientists get together for collaborations and she also provides an extensive roundup art/science collaborations (Note: I have removed links),

Following on from my last post on the ‘why’ of collaborations between artists and scientists, here I’d like to look at the ‘how’. When scientists and artists don’t typically have professional reasons for mixing, what are the mechanisms that enable collaboration?

Artist in Residency Schemes

Some of the more outward-looking scientific research organisations realise that there is something to be gained from a scheme that brings artists through their doors. It could be couched as a box-ticking ‘outreach’ exercise, but it is also an opportunity to bring the science happening behind their doors alive to the wider public. This approach has been particularly embraced by the physics community, where studies of the interactions between subatomic particles — which have serious implications for science and cost a great deal of taxpayer money — nonetheless seem of little relevance to the man on the street. As physicist David Weinberg notes based on his collaboration with Josiah McElheny (below), “far more people saw [our collaboration] in one day in Madrid than have ever read my Astrophysical Journal articles.”

Artist/Scientist Pairing Schemes

I think of artist/scientist pairing schemes as something of a matchmaking exercise, in which a number of artists are invited into a research institute and paired with interested and willing scientists. Like any matchmaking process, it seems to me that this is something that can go either way: sometimes it will work out, but other times it may not.

Individual collaborations between artists and scientists

Unsurprisingly, collaboration between an individual artist and scientist generally starts with an introduction, a conversation, and an interest/openness from both parties to trying something a little different. Collaboration in these circumstances is often initiated by the artist who may have an idea and an interest, but who recognises that they would benefit from the help of a scientist in order to fully realise their vision.

In the UK, there is an Arts and Humanities Research Council funding programme, Science in Culture, designed to stimulate art/science collaborations. There was funding in Canada for this type of collaboration. The Canada Council for the Arts had joint programmes with the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council and the National Research Council in the early 2000′s.

There is a new initiative, Beakerhead, being organized in Calgary, Alberta (Canada) for 2013 mentioned in my Nov. 13, 2012 posting (this is more of an arts/engineering collaborative event),

Beakerhead is an annual movement that culminates in a five-day citywide spectacle that brings together the arts and engineering sectors to build, engage, compete and exhibit interactive works of art, engineered creativity and entertainment.

Starting annually in 2013, Beakerhead will take place in Calgary’s major educational institutions, arts and culture venues, on the streets and, most importantly, in communities.
From performances and installations to workshops and concerts, Beakerhead is made possible by a continuously growing list of partners who share the desire of staging a collaborative event of epic proportions.

There is more information about the aspirations for this event on the Beakerhead Program page,

When fully realized, Beakerhead will be a five-day citywide highly participatory event that explodes in Calgary’s major educational institutions, arts and culture venues, on the streets and, most importantly, in communities. Through programming partnerships and community initiatives, Beakerhead is fuelled by groups and individuals in art, culture, science, engineering and technology.

Everyone is empowered to build, stage, exhibit and compete in interactive works, so people can experience and explore engineered creations from around the world – all at once! The following three streams are guiding Beakerhead’s programming vision:

1) Productions: local and internationally commissioned and co-produced grand openings, premieres, productions, and concerts.

2) Programs: city-wide illuminated art works and 3-D projections, international professional and student challenges, massive mechanical sculptures, interactive races, local restaurant programs and more.

3) Speakerhead: education and outreach programs such as artist and engineer-in-residence programs, professional speaker series, classroom programs and more.

Format and Goals:

Events will take place indoors and out, including ticketed and free events, and involving venues and public spaces throughout the city – and it’s all starting now! Partnerships are continuously forming and a calendar of events and programs is being developed to be announced in late 2012.

Together, Beakerhead will:

  • Engage people and communities – in hands-on public spectacles and contests.
  • Experiment – culturally – with science, art and engineering. Let’s test limits!
  • Commission new works – in new media, music, theatre, visual arts, dance.
  • Invite collaborations – between artists, scientists and engineers.
  • Invite collaborations – between local, Canadian and international experts.
  • Curate new exhibitions and performances.