Teaching with Visualizations

This material was originally created for Starting Point:Introductory Geology
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.

Initial Publication Date: December 1, 2006

Created by Bob MacKay, Clark College.

What are Visualizations?

Visualizations can present massive amounts of information to help scientists identify relevant patterns and processes in nature. Data visualization techniques range from simple pie charts or x-y scatter plots to colorful contour plots and 3-D images that can be manipulated and viewed from a variety of orientations and with a variety of color schemes. Spreadsheets like Excel have good basic graphing capabilities which are in essence visualizations. We have discussed the use of Excel for graphing data and model output in several examples. Our primary focus here will be the more sophisticated visualizations, which allow one to visualize multidimensional data.

Typically, visualizations for multidimensional data sets allow the users to:

  • Select a particular subset of a data set in space and/or time;
  • Create 3-D and contour plots;
  • View data from different orientations;
  • Create and view animations of data at different rates;
  • Customize the color enhancement of images to highlight features of particular interest;

Visualizations typically fall into one of the categories below:

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