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November 19, 2013

Neuroscientists Develop 5D Data Visualization Technique

Isaac Lopez

One of the key challenges of big data is taking the enormous amounts of information and turning it into something useful that can be consumed and ingested by the human brain. This week, neuroscientists at the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) say they have developed a new type of visualization – a five dimensional colorimetric model that they say will help them visualize data across space and time.

Two neuroscientists, Emmanuelle Tognoli, Ph.D., and Scott Kelso, Ph.D., employed at the Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences at FAU in Boca Raton, received a patent this week for developing their five dimensional visualization technique. The new technique, they say, will not only help them in understanding complex interactions happening in the brain, but will span across disciplines, giving analysts a way to represent spatiotemporal changes.

Per the release:

The method, called a five dimensional (5D) colorimetric technique, is able to graph spatiotemporal data (data that includes both space and time), which has not previously been achieved. Until now, spatiotemporal problems were analyzed either from a spatial perspective (for instance, a map of gas prices in July 2013), or from a time-based approach (evolution of gas process in one country over time), but not simultaneously from both perspectives. Without both space and time, analysts have been faced with an incomplete picture until now, with the creation of the 5D colorimetric technique.

The new visualization technique is being put to work by Tognoli and Kelso in their human brain research, which involves tracking neural activity from different areas of the human brain, with changes happening every one-thousandth of a second. Measuring data at this finite level presented a significant big data challenge for the researchers, not just from the technical perspective of storing and processing the data, but also turning the analysis into something that could be referenced for spot analysis.

“Using the 5D colorimetric technique, these huge datasets are transformed into a series of color-coded dynamic patterns that actually reveal the neural choreography completely,” said Kelso. “Combining this new method with conceptual and theoretical tools in real experiments will help us and others elucidate the basic coordination dynamics of the human brain.”

According to FAU, the new method is already being put to use in areas outside of brain research. The visualization is being used in climate research to examine climatic records of sea surface temperatures at 65,000 points around the world over a period of 28 years, giving climate scientists a visual picture of when and where temperature fluctuations occur. They say that other practical examples of how this new visualization can be used include tracking gas prices across the country, analyzing foreclosure rates in different states, or tracking epidemiological data for a virus.

Data visualization is big business. This was demonstrated unequivocally this past spring when data visualization suite vendor Tableau Software raised $250 million in an initial public offering that saw its shares open at $47 apiece. And while Tableau offers more than just visualization, it’s a key differentiator that companies like Tableau are able to build its value on.

It will be interesting to see if this particular model ends up finding adoption in some of the big data visualization suites out there.

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