“Visual technology is transforming the way research is conducted by magnifying data that was previously invisible, and enabling researchers to interrogate these extremely big datasets in real-time,” said Dr Daniel Adams, chief director: Basic Sciences and infrastructure at the Department of Science and Technology (DST). Adams was speaking at the launch of the UCT data visualisation wall, which opened the eResearch Africa 2017 conference, hosted by UCT eResearch.
Under the theme ‘data driving discovery’, the three-day conference, which took place in early May, provided researchers with a platform to showcase useful case studies and research methods that enhance their ability to generate, collect, share, process, analyse, store and retrieve information. It also gave local researchers an opportunity to network with data scientists from elsewhere in Africa and the global north.
The new world that we find ourselves in
“The new world of research, education, business, government, healthcare, banking and social interaction are all data driven,” says Adams. “All these data-driven activities – find expression more and more through e-Research, e-education and e-innovation.”
UCT eResearch was set-up in 2013 to provide the academic community with the necessary infrastructure and support to tackle data-driven challenges. “Research infrastructure is central to the knowledge triangle of innovation, research and education,” says Adams. The UCT eResearch team works with researchers to develop tailor-made computing solutions for their research needs.
“The eResearch endeavour in South Africa is about laying the groundwork for data-intensive science in order to position our universities as internationally competitive in addressing the global research challenges,” says Dr Dale Peters, director of UCT eResearch.
Self-service facility accessible to the whole UCT community
Designed as a self-service facility, the visualisation wall gives UCT researchers from across the six different faculties access to an important analytical tool for knowledge production.
The wall is made up of 10 computer monitors that collectively can display over 20-million pixels. It is housed in the newly renovated Hlanganani Junction in the Chancellor Oppenheimer Library; a space that has been designed to facilitate activities around researcher engagement and data visualisation.
“We want researchers to visualise their data in a place where all can get together,” says Sakkie Janse van Rensburg, executive director of Information and Communication Technology Services (ICTS). The location of the facility in the library is important. “The libraries are neutral university resources. Everyone is welcome,” says Gwenda Thomas, executive director of UCT Libraries.
“This new facility represents the value of the strategic partnership between UCT Libraries, ICTS and the Research Office,” says Peters.
Researchers using the space will have access to Sage 2 collaborative software which allows researchers to bring their own devices – phones, tablets, laptops – and display their data on the video wall.
The software allows multiple researchers to display their data, extracted information, visualisations and animations at the same time on a very large-format screen, and to use their devices to interact with the screen displays.
“This space can be used by researchers for interrogating data visualisations or having lab meetings, and will allow them to have joint poster sessions, display architectural diagrams, and even host collaborative art displays and music events,” says Dr Jason van Rooyen, former eResearch analyst working on the UCT eResearch team.
The visualisation wall also holds symbolic value. “At a deeper level, the visualisation wall is a ‘bridge’ that builds relationships in the true spirit of open access, open research, open innovation and without boundaries that restrict ourselves,” says Adams. The name Hlanganani, the section of the library where the wall is housed, means ‘to come together’ in Zulu.
Adams congratulated UCT for its vision and leadership in the building of eResearch infrastructure to support data-intensive research in South Africa.
Find out more about work UCT is doing to support data-intensive research
is your contact for bookings and information on the newly renovated Hlanganani space within the Chancellor Oppenheimer Library Complex (Hlanganani Junction).
Image by Jess Oosthuizen.