Following the people and events that make up the research community at Duke

Author: Lyndsey Garcia

Mapping Science: The Power of Visualization

By Lyndsey Garcia

Mobile Landscapes: Using Location Data from Cell Phones for Urban Analysis

Mobile Landscapes: Using Location Data from Cell Phones for Urban Analysis

We are constantly surrounded by visuals: television, advertisements and posters. Humans have been using visuals such as cartographic maps of the physical world to help guide our exploration and serve as a reminder of what we have already learned.

But as research has moved into more abstract environments that are becoming more difficult to interact with or visualize, the art of science mapping has emerged to serve as a looking glass to allow us to effectively interpret the data and discern apparent outliers, clusters and trends.

Now on display from from January 12 to April 10, 2015, the exhibit Places & Spaces: Mapping Science serves as a fascinating and intriguing example of the features and importance of science mapping.

The end result of a ten-year effort with ten new maps added each year, all one hundred maps are present at Duke at three different locations: the Edge in Bostock Library, the third floor of Gross Hall, and the second floor of Bay 11 in Smith Warehouse.

Visualizing Bible Cross-References

Visualizing Bible Cross-References

Science maps take abstract concepts of science and make them more visible, concrete, and tangible. The scope of the exhibit is broad, including science maps of the internet, emerging pandemics in the developing world, even the mood of the U.S. based on an analysis of millions of public tweets. Science mapping is not limited to the natural or technological sciences. Several maps visualize social science data such as Visualizing Bible Cross Connections and Similarities Throughout the Bible, where the axis represents the books of the Bible and the arches portray connections or similar phraseology between the books.

Angela Zoss, the exhibit ambassador who brought the project to Duke, comments, “The visualization helps at multiple phases of the research process. It helps the researcher communicate the data and understand his or her data better. When we try to summarize things with equations or summary statistics, such as the average, the mean, or the median, we could be glossing over very important patterns or trends in the data. With visualization, we can often visualize every single point in space for small data sets. One might be able to detect a pattern that you would never have been lost in simple summary statistics.”

The physical exhibit holds importance to the Places & Spaces project due to the physical printing of the maps. Some of the details on the maps are so intricate that they require an in-person viewing of the map in order to appreciate and understand the information portrayed. Such as, A Chart Illustrating Some of the Relations Between the Branches of Natural Science and Technology, is a hand-drawn map from 1948 showing the relationships between the branches of natural sciences and technology by using a distance-similarity metaphor, in which objects more similar to each other are more proximate in space.

A Chart Illustrating Some of the Relations between the Branches of Natural Science and Technology. Used by permission of the Royal Society

The maps look more like works of art in a museum than a collection of maps to interpret data. Angela Zoss explains her love of visualization as, “Visual graphics can inspire an emotion and excitement in people. It can encourage people to feel for information that would otherwise seem dry or intangible. The exhibit heightens those emotions even more because you see so many wonderful examples from so many different viewpoints. Every visualizing person is going to make a different choice in the details they want represented. Being able to see that variety gives people a better idea of how much more is possible.”

His Lab Work Makes Organic Chem More than a "Weed-Out"

By Lyndsey Garcia

“Hey, I ran one of those tests in my lab!” Zach whispered to me during biology lecture. I give him a sideways look, because I definitely didn’t recall running a Southern blot in our assigned lab section. But then I realized that he was referring to the lab that he works in on campus.

Zachary Visco presenting research at the Duke Cancer Institute Annual Retreat

Zachary Visco presenting research at the Duke Cancer Institute Annual Retreat

Zachary Visco is a sophomore biomedical engineering major on the pre-health track. After hours of hunting through job listings and emailing lab managers, he finally landed a position of working in an ovarian cancer research lab on campus led by Dr. Susan Murphy and Dr. Andrew Berchuck this past summer.

Having only a year of undergraduate education under his belt, he found some of the concepts and techniques in his new job over his head.

“I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t have any lab experience, but my boss, Dr. Zhiqing Huang, was very patient and walked me through everything,” Zach explained.

As Zach gained more experience in the lab, he started performing more experiments and gaining more responsibility. He would typically perform experiments that ranged from Western Blots, to cDNA preps, to real-time PCR. He was started to gain knowledge of how the pieces worked, but didn’t understand everything behind the science. However, Zach found in his class lectures, he was actually learning about concepts that pertained to his lab.

“Biology has helped explain some of the terminology and processes performed in lab, and organic chemistry has helped explain how and why some of the reactions occur,” he said.

For instance, he learned about the significance of cDNA and the information that can be determined from it. In his lab, he learned that running cDNA preps involved transcribing cDNA from mature RNA in order to perform a real-time PCR. In biology lecture, he learned why his lab would use cDNA instead of normal template DNA because mature RNA only expresses the exon, or the actual genes in our DNA, therefore the cDNA would only express the genes as well.

“I had hoped that I would eventually gain an understanding of the lab work during my undergrad, but when I first started, it all seemed very overwhelming,” Zach said. “I was pleasantly surprised when I found that I could actually apply knowledge from my classes to my work. It made it seem like I was finally learning material that could pertain to my career, not just trying to pass a weed-out class.”

Zach has found that working in the lab and the material taught in his classes has influenced his career path more than he realized. He had previously only imagined himself working in clinic-based research, but is now considering a path in lab-based research.

“I find lab research very interesting because it’s like a puzzle and you are trying to figure out the pieces as you go.”

Duke Undergraduate Research Society. Hit them up.

By Lyndsey Garcia

I have a confession: I have never personally been interested in performing research. I love to read, listen, and talk about research and latest developments, but never saw myself micropipetting or crunching raw data in the lab. But after attending the Duke Undergraduate Research Society (DURS) Kickoff, they got me to sign up for their listserve!

DURS Executive Board: (from left to right) Joseph Kleinhenz, Syed Adil, Lillian Kang, Dr. Huntington Willard, Sammie Truong, John Bentley

DURS Executive Board: (from left to right) Joseph Kleinhenz, Syed Adil, Lillian Kang, Dr. Huntington Willard, Sammie Truong, John Bentley

The kickoff highlighted DURS’s leading man, Dr. Huntington Willard. He was a biology pre-med undergraduate at Harvard for 3 years until he was introduced to genome research, which quickly became his life’s passion.

In 2002, Willard launched the Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy at Duke, which grew to more than 100 faculty and 300 staff members. The institute unfortunately met its end this past June, but Willard continues his love and passion for genome research here at Duke, and with Duke undergraduate students.

Before creating IGSP, Willard had only interacted with medical and graduate students during his research. But at Duke he had his first opportunity to engage with  undergrads.

“The best thing at Duke is the undergrads and I wanted to take advantage of the best thing at Duke,” he says.

Willard explains his love for research by explaining the inherent differences between all Duke students and those Duke students who perform research. All Duke students love to learn and are interested in what they are learning, but Duke students who research are questioners. He says they want to know more than what is given in the textbook. They constantly go between B and C on the test because there could be valid reasons for both, but we just don’t know why yet. They aren’t afraid to delve into uncharted territories where there is no safety net of certainty.

Willard says many of these young researchers seem to follow his own motto: “This is so cool. I want to know how it works.”

Willard’s talk already had me inspired, but then I got to hear from the executive board of DURS. Each member explained the research they are involved with on campus and how they got there. They explained how they sent tons of emails to professors and received no responses and gave anecdotes about switching labs because it wasn’t what they wanted.

They also expanded on what DURS offers to undergraduates. The program connects professors and undergraduates for potential research positions, sets up workshops to help make networking contacts, pairs young undergrads with experienced undergrads to mentor and give advice, and helps one realize that no one came out of the womb with lab experience, so don’t be discouraged by not having any at first.

“This is exactly why I came to Duke. It’s a great university with amazing research opportunities and now I can’t wait to get started.” – Freshman Jaclyn Onufrey.

So my takeaway from Duke Undergraduate Research Society was:

1)      Are you interested in questioning the unknown?

2)      Do you want to be part of discovering something new?

3)      Don’t know where to start?

If any of those aspects apply to you, it’s definitely worth hitting up DURS!

Joining the Team: Lyndsey Garcia

Hi! My name is Lyndsey Garcia and I’m proud to call myself a Duke student!

I’m a sophomore in the Pratt School of Engineering and I’m still attempting the infamous biomedical engineering, pre-med route. I was born on the naval base in Whidbey Island, Washington but have spent the last ten years in hot, hot Dallas, TX.

Lyndsey Garcia

Lyndsey Garcia

I love to water ski, snowboard, workout, play sports, sleep, eat carbohydrates, and binge watch Netflix shows. I was a big volleyball player in high school and play for the club volleyball team on campus. I used to play positions that were designated for taller girls, but my teammates quickly outgrew me and was sent to the back row. Yet, I found a way to embrace my short stature and love playing defense. Along with volleyball, I work as a lifeguard at the Duke Aquatic pools and peer tutor in organic chemistry.

Some families like to play board games. Some families like to go on exotic vacations. My family likes to listen to podcasts. I listen to Morning Edition when I ride on the bus and to Planet Money when I lift weights. My love for podcasts has helped expand my love for learning. I have learned about current events in Israel, along with different points of view on health care, and new advancements in cancer research. Having already a passion for math and science and an excitement for learning about the newest developments, it was a natural progression that I would seek to combine these interests to join a research blog. The opportunity to report on all the fascinating developments occurring at leading research institution is one of the greatest things I can imagine!

I love Duke and all it has to offer. While getting a first class education, you can cheer for a top ten basketball team. After doing research in the lab, you can toss of Frisbee with your friends in the gardens. Now I can attend interesting lectures and interview my peers on their intriguing research and develop my love of reporting it to all our readers!

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