York co-leads $11.5-milllion project on visualization tools

How do you look at millions of genomic patterns and see the diagnostic implications? How do you assimilate satellite data to better predict and visualize the effects of global warming, pollution and weather patterns? How can you chart the global migration of millions of people under slavery? How do you assess the impact millions of blog entries have had on the print media economy? How do you sift global intelligence reports to identify the real threats?

Each day, humanity poses thousands of similar questions as we produce massive data sets in every field – but as the data grows, the challenge becomes translating this data for the human senses and delivering the best analysis to solve real-world problems.

The Centre for Innovation in Information Visualization and Data-Driven Design (CIV-DDD), led by York University in partnership with the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD), promises to develop the next generation of data discovery, design and visualization techniques by developing new computational tools, representational strategies and interfaces.

The $11.5-million, five-year project brings together a unique multidisciplinary team of over 50 researchers from York, OCAD, the University of Toronto, 14 industry partners and significant international collaborators.

John Tsotsos (left), Canada Research Chair in Computational Vision and Distinguished Research Professor of Vision Science at York, is the project’s principal investigator. Nick Cercone, professor of artificial intelligence and data mining, will co-lead York’s team of 14 researchers, who include Amir Asif, professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science & Engineering, and Caitlin Fisher, Canada Research Chair in Digital Culture in the Department of Film.

Sara Diamond, visualization design researcher and president of OCAD, will lead OCAD’s team of 12 researchers, who include Vladimir Spicanovic, dean of the Faculty of Art, and Greg van Alstyne, professor in the Faculty of Design and director of research, Strategic Innovation Lab.

The Ontario Ministry of Research & Innovation has provided over $3.8 million in funding through the Ontario Research Fund–Research Excellence program. Industry partners will contribute over $3.6 million, with the remaining $4.1 million coming from the project’s institutional partners.

“Humans’ capacity to interpret sensory stimuli is limited, which is why the human processing strategy is to attend to the relevant and ignore the irrelevant,” says Tsotsos. “Determining what’s relevant is a key task. Equally important is discovering how best to present such data in a form that is quickly and effectively understood.

“By combining our team’s expertise in computer science, design, digital media, visual perceptual science, fine arts and the social sciences, CIV-DDD will discover and provide new visualizations for underlying patterns, processes and relationships within data sets,” says Tsotsos. “These in turn will suggest new research directions and applications, laying the foundation for a new wave of knowledge creation and technological products.” 

CIV-DDD formalizes many existing research collaborations, both within York University’s Faculties and departments and among researchers at York, OCAD and U of T.

“In the new paradigm of data-driven discovery, art and design researchers have a profound role to play in partnership with scientists, making the invisible visible, heralding a new era of knowledge, cultural creation and technological products,” says Diamond. “This pre-eminent research hub for the development of next-generation data visualization techniques is unique in its level of interdisciplinary fire power, strong collaboration with end-users and international links. It aggregates and extends much successful collaboration amongst the researchers, and between OCAD and York University.”

Many techniques and technologies developed by research groups associated with CIV-DDD will become resources for the entire team as they focus on new data-driven design and information visualization solutions in four thematic areas:

  • bioinformatics and medicine;
  • fine and performing arts;
  • engineering and physical sciences;
  • humanities and social sciences.

Collaboration between industry and academia is crucial to the project’s success. “Platform Computing is honoured to support the CIV-DDD project and provide the students and researchers at York and OCAD with cutting-edge technologies to explore and create the next generation of visualization solutions and services and help them tackle scientific, social and human challenges,” says Jingwen Wang, vice-president, products, at Platform Computing. “Collaboration and information sharing are fundamental to academic research and Platform products enable researchers and students to easily collaborate and manage data and resources to capture, simulate and analyze their results.” 

CIV-DDD’s industry partners highlight its wide applicability across sectors, including:

“CIV-DDD responds both to a dramatic paradigm shift in the health, social and economic challenges facing Canadians and the need for more research capacity and state-of-the-art infrastructure in this region,” says Stan Shapson, York’s vice-president research & innovation. “It also builds on the existing strengths of York’s Centre for Vision Research in the Faculty of Science & Engineering, the Institute for Research on Learning Technologies in the Faculty of Education and Future Cinema Lab in the Faculty of Fine Arts, among others.

“By leading the Consortium on New Media, Creative and Entertainment R&D in the Toronto Region (CONCERT), York and its partner universities and industries identified the preconditions necessary to develop a high-end visualization industry in Ontario," says Shapson. "This unique collaboration will help fulfil one of CONCERT’s long-term objectives, which was to grow the region’s entertainment, screen-based and other innovation-driven creative industries into a globally competitive cluster.” 

CIV-DDD will also support Ontario’s economy by producing innovative technology for commercialization, such as new:

  • data-mining algorithms;
  • 3-D vision and 3-D modelling technologies;
  • data-display tools and protocols;
  • visualization-design methods and techniques;
  • data-inquiry paradigms;
  • user-friendly interfaces that can be scaled to a variety of screen displays;
  • new esthetics and research practices.

“We’re proud of the cutting-edge work that our researchers do at York University and the wealth and jobs they create in York West and across Ontario,” said Mario Sergio, MPP for York West. “New discoveries will continue to be made and we want those people, those ideas and those jobs right here in our community.”

CIV-DDD is one of 21 projects funded by the Ontario Research Fund–Research Excellence program, which has provided almost $69.5 million to support more than 214 researchers in seven cities across Ontario.

The Ontario Research Fund is a key part of the province’s Innovation Agenda, a $3.2-million strategy designed to move world-class research from the lab to the global marketplace in key areas such as life sciences, digital media and green energy to ensure Ontario will be among the 21st century’s winning economies.

The Research Excellence program helps develop Ontario’s research talent while ensuring Ontario researchers have the operating funding they need to undertake world-leading projects.

For a full list of funded projects, visit the Ontario Ministry of Research & Innovation Web site.