By Easwar Iyer
In and out of the classroom or laboratory, scientists and engineers are analyzing, graphing, and presenting data that reshapes conventional thinking, instructs the next generation of scientists, or tackles the mechanics of disease, to name but a few examples. However, industry accepted software tools and graphing capabilities present limitations in truly demonstrating findings. This raises concerns as the validity of research is often determined in part by how well the data are presented—creating the presentation paradox.
The manner of presentations of the work created by scientists and engineers can be as diverse as their specialized research fields. This requires technology tools that adapt to distinct need, without an extensive learning curve. Whether in an environmental research lab, a science classroom, or a laboratory, scientists and engineers use data analysis and graphing software to present findings in professional detail. The software acts as a guide from experiment to publication, offering extensive versatility in creating publication-ready graphs for review and consideration among industry peers and research journals.
Wind Power in 3D
Wind power supply is dependent upon sufficient wind speeds being present to spin turbines. Dr. Ray Huffaker of the University of Florida, a natural resource economist, went into a proposed wind farm in FL, far removed from the gusty areas of the Midwest where so many wind farms are flourishing. His research sought to shift the notion of wind as a typically treated random probability by measuring and predicting systematic wind-speed patterns through nonlinear dynamic analysis in order to see if matching the available wind power supply and clean energy demand was possible.
Dr. Huffaker and his research partner, Dr. Marco Bittelli of the University of Bologna, hypothesized that wind-energy patterns that matched well with regional energy demand patterns would increase wind project feasibility in lower-wind areas. However, simply hypothesizing does not make it factual. In their research, the scientists detected strong evidence that wind-speed patterns did, in fact, match well with the energy demand patterns in the project area.
The recorded wind-speed patterns were characterized by three-dimensional, satellite-like orbits that exceeded the capabilities of 2D graphing tools. Drs. Huffaker and Bittelli required a unique data display technique to adequately display their findings. An animated LabTalk script created specifically for this research showed the evolution of wind patterns through elegant, ultrafast, flexible 3D motion. With this tool, the researchers could display their findings in a way that demonstrated the systematic nature of the data. The implications of these findings include possibly opening more regions—specifically those with high population and demand for renewable energy yet low average wind speed to supply it—to wind energy production.
Plotting Success in the Classroom
Meanwhile in the classroom, a pair of professors specializing in biology and physics is striving to deliver a realistic scientific research experience for their students. Dr. Kristine Lang, physics, and Dr. Phoebe Lostroh, biology, created an introductory course with the goal of providing 20 freshmen students with a holistic research experience. The processes of data collection, analysis, and publication of journal-ready representations of data are key components of scientific research and a successful career in the sciences and also an integral part of the class.
Instead of relying upon lessons from a textbook, the first-year students performed original research and gained knowledge that can be used throughout their scientific careers. While using an atomic force microscope to image mutant bacteria, the students familiarized themselves with the basics of scientific research and analysis and presented their findings using the same software professional researchers use. Utilizing an easy-to-use plotting tool that produces engaging graphs proves beneficial to these students and teaches them about the complexity of gathering, exploring and processing data. With comprehensive graphing features, the students can easily visualize complicated data.
As a result of this type of exposure to research and presentation, Drs. Lang and Lostroh help their students become better equipped to tackle such tasks throughout their academic and eventual professional careers. The class was such a success the first year that it has become a permanent offering during the fall curriculum. The project also evolved into writing a National Science Foundation grant proposal, which the team recently won.
Presenting New Understandings
Finally, in the lab, research into diseases such as diabetes requires the use of data analysis and presentation software capable of providing the research community a level of understanding necessary to duplicate or build upon the initial research. Dr. Bryan of the Pacific Northwest Diabetes Research Institute (PNDRI), a small nonprofit research institute, has dedicated part of the past 25 years of his career to studying how mutations in beta cell receptors affect insulin transmission across an ion channel. Through cloning and modeling, Dr. Bryan and his fellow researchers are trying to learn as much as possible at a biochemical level. Their goal is to help those with the disease lead better, healthier lives.
The bulk of the research focuses on two diabetic disorders, neonatal diabetes—caused by over active channels, or congenital hyperinsulinism—caused by inactive channels. Essentially, no insulin is produced with neonatal diabetes and too much insulin is produced in congenital hyperinsulinism. Dr. Bryan and the researchers studied these channels to figure out if it might be possible to design drugs or therapeutic strategies to assist individuals in regulating their insulin. The research initially tackled understanding how a particular drug was being used to regulate insulin production. It became clear that in order to understand the cells and channels involved in treatment, they would need to clone the genes. Along the way, mutations occurring in the two genes that encode the channels were discovered to change the way insulin is secreted. Once these beta cell mutations were found, the research team sought to determine whether current drugs could be improved or new drugs could be designed for treatment.
With publication of results playing such an important factor in disease research, it is imperative to have software capable of analyzing and presenting data in a clear, concise fashion. Dr. Bryan needs software featuring flexibility and wide-array of graphs. This is especially vital to presenting his findings since publication of research has changed to such a degree that each channel has its own unique formatting requirements for figures to be included. The figures preferred can include anything from line drawings to panel figures displaying what happened to a particular assay or x-ray coordinates. Plus, Dr. Bryan’s presentations benefit from plugging output from other sources into the software to enhance the results by changing colors, axes, etc.
Embracing innovation, even in the face of accepted industry standards, results in professional presentations that increase the credibility of research by properly demonstrating findings. Scientists and engineers such as those mentioned above, along with Fortune Global 500 companies, research institutions, and universities across various disciplines including physics, chemistry, biology, pharmacology and more, have already made the choice to utilize innovative and versatile data analysis and graphing software to present their findings in intuitive, powerful ways.
How can you overcome the presentation paradox? By embracing the innovation available through robust data analysis and presentation software and refusing to accept the limitations imposed by inadequate solutions, your work will appear professional, exhaustive, and integral to your field. SW
Easwar Iyer is the vice president of technology at OriginLab.