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When VIS 2014 (the premier conference for advances in visualization, co-located with the VAST, InfoVis, and SciVis conferences) arrives in Paris next week, Brown University’s Department of Computer Science (Brown CS) will enjoy a markedly high level of representation and participation.

“As this conference has grown, our Graphics, Visualization, and Interaction group has grown with it,” says Professor David Laidlaw, co-author of a paper being presented and SciVis Conference Chair. “We’ve always had strong representation. This year, as VIS moves to an important destination, and for the first time an international one, we’re contributing more than ever.” At the organizational level, he’s joined by Brown CS alumni Daniel Acevedo ‘07 (Conference Webmaster), Steven Drucker ‘84 (Exhibits Chair, Fundraising), Daniel F. Keefe ’07 (Panels Co-Chair), and Liz Marai ‘07 (Publicity Chair).

Current PhD candidates Steven Gomez, Connor Gramazio, Hua Guo, and Emanuel Zgraggen are also presenting papers. Zgraggen’s work (video available here), co-authored with Steven Drucker ‘84 and Robert Zeleznik ‘89, will be of interest to users ranging from the molecular biologist to the professional sports fan. Featuring a pen and touch system, it offers tools for visual data exploration that supports data transformation and aggregation, filtering, and brushing. Users can combine these tools on an unbounded virtual whiteboard, creating interactive visual display networks in which each visualization can act as a filter for others.

“It’s my first conference presentation,” he says, “and I’m really excited to be heard. It’ll be great to find ourselves in an environment where collaboration is easy, where there’s no elbowing or competition. Brown CS is making such a strong showing this year, and it’s due not just to Andy [van Dam] and David’s success as researchers but their interpersonal skills.”

Ten alumni are presenting papers or posters as well: Çağatay Demiralp ‘12, Steven Drucker ‘84, Remco Chang ‘09, Radu Jianu ‘12, Daniel F. Keefe ‘07, Mike Kirby ‘02, John Stasko ‘89, Robert Zeleznik ‘89, and post-docs Jian Chen and Caroline Zimkiewicz. Research by Daniel F. Keefe, now a professor at University of Minnesota, shows the breadth of visualization’s influences (it was inspired in part by the classic London Underground map) and also of its potential applications. It analyzes the biomechanics of the human spine, using (as one example) a branching metaphor to differentiate between prominent and less prominent trends. 

“We all have reason to be really proud,” Daniel says. “David prepared us so well. His focus was always on picking great problems, not just making last year’s algorithms five percent better. He even taught us fine points such as public speaking, which is incredibly important for scientific presentations. Now, his former students are all forging our own way, but we stay in touch. There’s a great Brown CS tradition of that.”

“It’s not a secret,” Laidlaw adds. “There’s a love of interdisciplinary work here, and a lot of the success we’re seeing now just comes out of Andy’s and my toolsmithing, our sense of craftsmanship. We wanted the best people around us as we make great tools that scientists will use, and we still do.”