Places & Spaces: Mapping Science exhibition to debut new ‘macroscopes’ at Vanderbilt University

Post by IU Newsroom intern Laura Ellsworth:

Places & Spaces: Mapping Science, a traveling exhibition founded and curated by IU professor Katy Bӧrner, will debut its 2017 iteration at Vanderbilt University on Jan. 23.

This international collection of world-class data visualizations will be on display in conjunction with the theme “Our Lives Online.”

Bӧrner is an IU Distinguished Professor of Information Science and Intelligent Systems Engineering in the IU School of Informatics and Computing. She will also deliver a keynote lecture at Vanderbilt on Jan. 27.


An visitor explores a macroscope during an exhibition of Places & Spaces at the IU Art Museum in September 2016.

The Places & Spaces exhibit, established at IU in 2005, showcases the visualization of complex data in innovative formats, helping many to make sense of large streams of data. Each year, new visualizations are added, selected from international and interdisciplinary submissions.

The current exhibition includes 100 science maps, sculptures, hands-on activities and interactive visualizations called macroscopes. The macroscopes — accessed via a 46-inch touchscreen display introduced into the exhibit upon its 10th anniversary two years ago — present data visually to make new perspectives possible. Visitors are encouraged to “touch the data” and engage with the macroscopes on a touchscreen kiosk. Three to five new macroscopes are expected to be added to the exhibit each year through 2024.

“In the information age, being able to ‘read and write’ data visualization is becoming as important as being able to read and write text,” Bӧrner said. “The visualizations displayed in this exhibition showcase the power of data visualizations to save lives, to make decisions informed by high-quality data, and to communicate the beauty and value of science to a general audience.”

Bӧrner is also the founding director of the IU Cyberinfrastructure for Network Science Center, which serves as home base for the exhibit.

Four new macroscopes will debut at the exhibition at Vanderbilt University. They are:

  • Smelly Maps: Features a “smellscape” of 12 cities mapped by smell using social media
  • HathiTrust: Highlights the diversity of publications collected in digital form by HathiTrust.
  • Excellence Networks: Compares how research institutions, such as Indiana and Vanderbilt universities, collaborate with one another.
  • FleetMon Explorer: Shows how the amount of shipping traffic that navigates the Strait of Malacca compared to other major shipping lanes of the world.
Places & Spaces at the David J. Sencer Center for Disease Control and Prevention Museum in Washington, D.C., which hosted an exhibit in 2016.

Places & Spaces at the David J. Sencer Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Museum in Washington, D.C., which hosted an exhibit in 2016.

The HathiTrust macroscope was a project of David Reagan, a senior analyst and programmer at University Information Technology Services; Lisel Record, curator of Places & Spaces; and Bӧrner. A collaboration between IU and the University of Illinois, the HathiTrust Research Center at HathiTrust Digital Repository leverages these institution’s powerful data storage infrastructures to house and provide open access to over 8 million volumes and 2 billion pages of archived material from major research institutions and libraries worldwide.

For over a decade, Places & Spaces has collected science maps and visualization tools from leading experts in the natural, physical and social sciences, as well as from industry and government experts. The collections’ data visualizations cover topics as diverse as the settings of Victorian poems and maps showing the national mood through tweets over the course of the day.

By helping visitors grasp the abstract concepts, relationships and dynamism of complex systems, the exhibition promotes more informed, effective decision-making on the part of private individuals, industry practitioners, public policymakers and others. The exhibition has traveled to 28 countries on six continents and showcases the work of 235 mapmakers that hail from 68 cities in 16 different countries.

Many of the science maps in the exhibit are viewable online, along with further information about the Vanderbilt

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