_NEWS Data Visualization

_Big Data Visualized

In academia, comprehensive research can sometimes mean expansive, seemingly endless spreadsheets of data.

_Lisa Ulmer

Ulmer is a professor in the School of Public Health, with research focuses on cancer, experimental design and research methods, chronic diseases, time series analysis, survey methods and more.

_Xiaohua Tony Hu

Hu is a professor at The iSchool at Drexel, founding co-director of the NSF Center for Visual and Decision Informatics and founding editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Data Mining and Bioinformatics.

Drexel researchers are developing a system that will translate that data into information that is organized visually and Lisa Ulmer with Drexel’s School of Public Health and Tony Hu with The iSchool at Drexel, in partnership with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, have established a national research center for Visual and Decision Informatics (CVDI), a research hub for developing visual and decision support tools and techniques.

These tools will enable government and industry decision makers to fundamentally improve the way their organizations’ data and information is analyzed and interpreted. CVDI is the only center in the nation that focuses on visual and decision informatics research.

Ulmer and Data Operating Director Hamad Sindhi use visual data tools to assist the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Health in developing cancer education programs.

Ulmer says that data entry was traditionally done with a calculator, requiring many hours of work before the data could be interpreted.

With this new software, data reports that meet a wide variety of needs are instantly available. The interface is user-friendly: data is logged, and reports are generated with a few clicks of a button.

Cancer educators across the state run workshops and survey participants on what they’ve learned. That data is then entered into a central data repository—the Data Warehouse—where it is readily available for workshop managers to view and manipulate. Researchers use these reports to evaluate cancer education classes. If the classes are not as successful as they should be, program managers have the ability to immediately make changes in order to improve future classes.

Researchers were also able to develop a map that plots the state’s high-risk cancer areas. This map is used to determine where cancer education courses are needed the most: If program managers see that a high-risk area is underserved, they can adjust class schedule to ensure that these needs are met.

Ulmer and Hu are working within their areas of expertise—chronic disease prevention and biometrics, respectively—to help educate Pennsylvania residents on the risk, symptoms and treatment of chronic illness such as cancer.