BY LIN DAVID
When Nicholas Tsinoremas, director of University of Miami’s Center for Computational Science (CCS), and Richard Bookman, special advisor at UM, walked into Sawsan Khuri’s office and pitched the idea of hosting the Places and Spaces: Mapping Science exhibition, she was thrilled to be given the opportunity to lead the innovative exhibit. Places and Spaces is a collection of data visualizations that capture snapshots of reality in time and space and present them in informative, beautifully designed maps. Khuri, director of engagement of CCS, has long thought about bringing Places and Spaces to the University of Miami and had already obtained a copy of “Atlas of Science: Visualizing What We Know,” the book on which the exhibit is based. Katy Borner, information science professor at Indiana University, is the book’s author and the curator of the Places and Spaces: Mapping Science exhibition. She explained that the collection, which now includes 100 maps, is meant to “inspire cross-disciplinary discussion on how to best track and communicate human activity and scientific progress on a global scale.”
The Places and Spaces exhibit is one of the latest examples of the increasing importance of cross-disciplinary work, team science and scientific data visualization. It can be viewed as a team science initiative that promotes collaborative efforts across multiple fields at the university. For the Places and Spaces exhibit, CCS came together with the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Communication, the School of Architecture and the Otto G. Richter Library to make the project possible. The Lowe Art Museum was also involved, as were central media relations and facilities personnel. This was the first time the university had brought together so many diverse departments and schools to work together on a single project. The effective teamwork between all these entities was what made the exhibit so successful at UM.
This exhibit marks the first time all 100 maps of the Places and Spaces exhibit have been put on display at the same time, which presented a further challenge for the university. According to Khuri, all 100 maps combined required at least 600 linear feet of space, which is about the length of two football fields. The Richter Library provided the space to display half of the maps (including the three 3-D elements) and the School of Architecture put the other half on display at their Stanley and Jewell Glasgow Hall. The exhibit has brought about increased awareness of the importance of both data visualization as well as cross-disciplinary work at the University.
It is well-documented that the importance of working in teams is steadily increasing in importance in the academic world. Khuri is passionate about teaching the principles and dynamics of team science, a field concerning logistics and teamwork between scientists working together on a project. She has extensive experience in this novel field of teamwork; in fact, her career has been a team science story. She is a biologist who became fascinated by the computer science field and has been working in both fields ever since. In her role as director of engagement for CCS, Khuri is responsible for increasing cross-disciplinary research collaboration in computational science across UM. She is able to use her position as an opportunity to engage and connect colleagues from different schools within the institution.
The Center for Computational Science (CCS) was set up in 2007 directly under the provost. The mission of CCS is to “provide a framework for promoting collaborative and multidisciplinary activities across the University and beyond,” according to the UM CCS website. One of the biggest resources available to scientists and researchers who facilitate cross-disciplinary work at CCS is Pegasus 2, an IBM-built supercomputer that provides high-performance computing for researchers who need assistance with exceedingly complex calculations. Pegasus 2 is one of the largest and most powerful supercomputers housed by an academic institution. With tools like this at its disposal, UM CCS is poised to continue fostering interdisciplinary projects, weaving different fields of science together by means of its immense computing power.
“There are no endings. Places & Spaces may be leaving, but this is also the beginning of VizUM, a visualization project that will connect the visualization efforts already in place on the three UM campuses, and initiate new efforts as well,” Khuri said. The work Khuri and CCS have done with regard to cross-disciplinary work has been nothing but successful. Their efforts have shown that it is a valuable skill to understand how to work in teams and, once it has been mastered, fruitful projects and events have no choice but to transpire.