Distributed September 21, 2000
For Immediate Release
News Service Contact: Janet Kerlin

Information technology

Brown team looks for new ways to examine scientific data

A team of researchers led by Brown computer scientist David H. Laidlaw will use expertise from art and perceptual psychology to develop new ways to look at scientific data from magnetic resonance imaging, computational blood flow and geographic remote sensing from satellites.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Brown University computer scientist David H. Laidlaw will lead a research team that includes an artist and perceptual psychologists to develop new ways to look at scientific data from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized blood flow research, and geographic remote sensing.

The work is supported by a $2.3-million, four-year grant from the National Science Foundation. Brown is one of 41 institutions to receive funds under the new $90-million Information Technology Research initiative. The awards, which will spur fundamental research and innovative applications of information technology, are a step toward building on U.S. leadership in this area of growing importance to the economy.

Laidlaw’s research team hopes their innovative visualization tools will help scientists in many disciplines to better analyze and understand their data.

Current MRI technology, for example, could supply 50 times more data, but there is no practical way of viewing it, Laidlaw said. More information could be extracted from an MRI if there were a way to look at the multiple values represented by each point.

The team will apply the techniques of painting, sculpture, drawing and graphic design to create new visualization tools that would portray huge amounts of data as effectively as possible. “We’re looking for more effective pictures than the pictures that are available now,” Laidlaw said.

The researchers will use perceptual psychology to compare the effectiveness of visualization tools in several environments, including virtual reality, desktop workstations, paper and 3-D rapid-prototyping output.

The tools will be developed and evaluated in close collaboration with scientists in three disciplines: neurobiologists studying neural development and diseases via biological imaging, computational flow researchers studying blood flow through arteries, and natural resource management.

The study of blood flow could lead to improved treatment for cardiovascular diseases. An understanding of early neural development could enable new therapies for birth defects, genetic disorders and other diseases. Remote sensing advances could provide better monitoring of natural resources and permit widespread improvements in global quality of life.

The research team members from Brown include computer scientists Laidlaw and Andries van Dam; perceptual psychologists Michael J. Tarr and William H. Warren; applied mathematician George Karniadakis; and bioengineer Peter D. Richardson. Colleagues at other institutions include artist David Kremers and biologist Russell E. Jacobs, both of California Institute of Technology; geographer Iain H. Woodhouse of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland; and biologist Eric T. Ahrens of Carnegie Mellon University.