Studying graphs and thinking about data visualization has been a thread across the year, most especially during Campfire conversations and in Science Block. We’ve regularly analyzed and discussed some of the amazingly beautiful and fascinating graphs highlighted in The New York Times’ “What’s Going On With This Graph?” program, and our young scientists have had many thoughtful lessons and discussions related to how scientists use graphs to analyze and communicate data (great example can be found here). Yesterday, Auburn and Navy Banders walked over to The University of Texas’ VisLab to learn more about data visualization.

Before we left, Ms. Bennett, one of our Computer Science teachers, taught us about Edward Tufte’s work and we spent time looking at a graphic that Tufte called one of the “best statistical drawings ever created”: Minard’s graphic of Napoleon in Russia. In this map Minard interestingly portrays the losses suffered by Napoleon's army in the Russian campaign of 1812. Beginning at the Polish-Russian border, the thick band shows the size of the army at each position. The path of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow in the bitterly cold winter is depicted by the dark lower band, which is tied to temperature and time scales. After working to understand the map, we talked more about what made it a compelling visualization of the data. Ms. Bennett then got us excited about all the possibilities of data visualization once combined with computer science.

With that, we headed over to UT, first making a quick stop in the Gates Computer Science Complex to talk to a PhD student there about her work and why she loves computer science. Jessica is a 4th year PhD student interested in epidemic processes, graph theory, high-dimensional statistics, machine learning, and applications to large scale networks. We admired the beautiful GDC building and walked through the Dell Computer Science Hall to the VisLab, which is a state-of-the-art facility that explores the intersection between human perception and large-scale visual analysis through the study of visualization and interactive displays. The VisLab serves as a research hub for human-computer interaction, tiled display software development, and visualization consulting and supports the world-class research being conducted at UT.

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