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Penn State Researchers Collaborate with 16-Tile Visualization Wall

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University's Huck Institutes of Life Sciences have a new tool to visualize and collaborate on data thanks to the recent installation of a 16-tile visualization wall.

The 7-foot by 13-foot wall, along with a slew of collaborative tools, is already in use by Moriah Szpara, an infectious disease expert at Penn State, to teach her graduate students.

"Human beings have a brain that is extremely visual, so large, high-quality images stimulate our ability to comprehend large datasets and solve problems creatively," Szpara said in a prepared statement. "Large-scale representations are an important step in our grasping the variations and subtleties in enormous data sets — as well as our moving toward solutions and flexible technologies that can interpret information in a visually resonating way. The visualization wall is bringing us closer to this total-immersion environment."

The school has plans to add 32 touch screen features to the wall, which can be controlled by an individual or multiple people, this month to allow users to zoom in and out or otherwise manipulate the display as they would a tablet. "Still other features could eventually be programmed into the wall to enable scientists to use hand-gestures to command the data, images and representations from a distance," according to a Penn State news release.

"A tool like the visualization wall eliminates the back and forth process of sharing data," said Mat Ferrari, an assistant professor of biology, in a prepared statement, "making it much more possible to predict and prevent an outbreak as we sit down together and pore over the many different variables — birth rates, death rates, vaccination doses, supply chain limitations and demographics — just to name a few."

"It's incredible to have such a large volume of information we can analyze gathered in a single place," said Marylyn Ritchie, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, and director of the Center for Systems Genomics, in a prepared statement. "But the scale and magnitude of influences we're dealing with requires something more sophisticated than spreadsheets to specialize in displaying relationships visually. So we're creating software that allows us to interact with gene structure and the data that emerge from this process."

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at jbolkan@gmail.com.

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