Penn State selected for DHS National Visualization Team

January 17, 2006

Pennsylvania State University has been named a Regional Visualization and Analytics Center by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. PNNL leads the Department of Homeland Security's National Visualization and Analytics Center, ( or NVAC, which is bringing academic expertise to the nation's efforts to discover information that may warn officials of a terrorist attack.

Penn State's RVAC will address three core challenges related to visual representation and analysis of diverse information. Researchers will develop methods for deriving and exploiting information, such as place and time, from a variety of data forms; they will link this information with stored knowledge and analytical reasoning practices to yield usable intelligence; and will provide cognitive readiness and collaboration support enabling individuals and teams to assess situations, interpret evidence, make decisions and direct or execute actions.

Penn State is one of four university team selections announced today. The others are the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Washington, and Purdue University in partnership with Indiana University School of Medicine. Stanford University was named a regional center earlier this year.

DHS established the NVAC in 2004 to provide scientific guidance and coordination for the research and development of new tools and methods that DHS has identified as required for managing, visually representing, and analyzing enormous amounts of diverse data and information. Development of these visualization tools will enable analysts to more effectively identify signs of terrorist attacks in their earliest stages and ultimately to prevent terrorist activities before they can be carried out. The four core responsibilities of the NVAC are research and development; education; technology evaluation and implementation; and integration and coordination of research programs across government agencies.

"Penn State is known world-wide for its contributions to geographic information science, particularly its work on strategies and technologies for exploiting geospatial and temporal information, which is a slice of visual analytics that isn't currently represented on the NVAC team," said Jim Thomas, PNNL's chief scientist for information technologies and NVAC director. "Their expertise is an exciting addition."

"Individuals and teams in many contexts must find, assimilate and analyze continually changing information about place-based, evolving, real world situations," says Dr. Alan MacEachren, the E. Willard and Ruby S. Miller professor of geography at Penn State.

"Our university's RVAC brings together an exceptional, interdisciplinary research group to address this challenge through innovative, knowledge-enabled visualization methods and tools in support of the DHS mission."

"Where" and "when" are explicit or implicit components of news reports, financial transactions, photographs, maps, and remotely sensed imagery and other data. The Penn State research team will apply its unique perspectives on geospatial and temporal information, combined with its expertise in other areas, to develop strategies for exploiting the where and when components of a variety of information, thus enabling analysts to anticipate, prevent and respond as quickly as possible to major events.

Once analysts have intelligence that notes the place and time of events, they need to ensure the data is safely stored and not forgotten or rendered inaccessible. Penn State researchers will develop methods to integrate data and information visualization tools with knowledge management tools to uncover and interpret emergent patterns - the crux of visualization.

The final component of work under the agreement is applying a cognitive science approach to understanding how individuals and teams use visual tools, allowing researchers to better understand and enhance the role of these tools in analytical reasoning and decision-making. To do this, the team will create a Knowledge-enabled Collaborative Visual Analytics Workspace where analysts can interact, giving researchers a bird's eye view of what is and isn't useful.

The opportunity to participate in a national challenge is not lost on Penn State's MacEachren.

"As an academic institution ourselves, we recognize the importance of sharing our expertise with others in hopes of cultivating more minds in the field of visual analytics," he said. "Throughout the duration of the contract, our RVAC will connect geographic information science with the broader information science community and develop targeted education and training opportunities for today's analysts, emergency responders, and the next generation of visual analytics scientists."

In addition to staff at Penn State, the RVAC team includes collaborators at Drexel University, VideoMining Corporation, GeoDecisions, and the New York and New Jersey Port Authority Emergency Operations Center.

Penn State

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