Scalable Systems for Data Visualization: Current and Future Challenges


Kaitlin Searfoss:
Hi, everyone. Welcome to this podcast from Cambridge Health Tech Institute for the Data Visualization and Exploration Tools Conference taking place May 23rd through 25th as part of the BIO-IT World Conference & Expo. I'm Kaitlin Searfoss, Conference Producer. We have with us today one of our speakers, Dr. Elisabeta Marai, who is an associate professor in the Electronic Visualization Lab at the University of Illinois. Thanks so much for being here today, Dr. Marai.

Liz Marai:
Pleasure to be here.

Kaitlin Searfoss:
So, you're speaking on your work to design novel and scalable systems for visual analysis on large-display environments. Can you give us a summary on what inspired this project and the new approaches you've developed?

Liz Marai:
This project was developed by the first author, Jillian Aurisano, who is a biology major and doctoral student in our lab, through our collaboration with a team of genomics researchers at the Monsanto Lab in an industrial research setting. Our collaborators were investigating these really large collections of complete bacterial sequences, things like 700, 800 strains. In this process, they found that they couldn't fit the strain information on a single screen. At the same time, though, most of the desks in their lab had more than a single display. LCD displays are so cheap these days. Everybody tiles them up. Researchers have at least two, if not four or six or more, displays on every single desk.

The question was can we take advantage of this high-resolution and large-display environment to actually show more information in an effective way. In response to their request, we've designed and built this large-scale environment for comparative genomics called BactoGeNIE. In the process, we had to overcome perceptual issues as well as document the opportunities and design limitations that arise from these environments, which are really human scale. At the end of it, we successfully tested this environment in a variety of settings, including a really large, nine-foot tiled display. That's basically the size of a wall. To our best knowledge, this is the first interactive, large-scale comparative gene neighborhood visualization for a big display.

Kaitlin Searfoss:
What is the next challenge in bioinformatics data analysis, and how do you see data vis tools playing a part in overcoming in?

Liz Marai:
The big challenge is scalability. There's no question about that. On one hand, there's massive amounts of biological data that come from experimental, high throughput, and high resolution methods. Then, there's the really large repositories of biological data that are coming from the Precision Medicine Initiative, which is an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that looks at individual variability in the environment lifestyle for each person and tries to come up with personalized treatments. All these data need to be integrated and interpreted.

Then, there's additional massive data that are generated through computational simulations of genetic network. At the crossing of all these roads, visualization is an increasingly important component in the effective analysis of large biological data set. We just don't have the right solutions yet, which makes it such an interesting research topic.

Kaitlin Searfoss:
What are you most looking forward to seeing at the Data Visualization and Exploration Tools Conference this May?

Liz Marai:
Despite existing efforts that are trying to bridge the biology and the visualization community, there's this very persistent cultural divide. The two communities, they have different publication cultures. They gravitate towards their own conferences, and they have trouble keeping up with each other's state of the art. I am very interested in how people overcome this cultural divide between biology and visual computation. I think the conference is really, really going to be awesome.

Kaitlin Searfoss:
Thank you so much for your time today, Dr. Marai.

Liz Marai:
TPleasure to talk to you.

Kaitlin Searfoss:
That was Dr. Elisabeta Marai, who's an associate professor in the Electronic Visualization Lab at the University of Illinois. She'll be speaking at the Data Visualization and Exploration Tools Conference at BIO-IT World on May 23rd through 25th in Boston. If you'd like to hear her in person, go to bioitworldexpo.com for registration information and enter the key code "podcast." I'm Kaitlin Searfoss. Thank you for listening.

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