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Science on a Sphere displays data stories


By Samantha Schmidt

The “Science on a Sphere” exhibit uses high-definition imagery and software to seamlessly present global data patterns in a visually interesting way, said Eric Wernert, director for visualization and analytics.

Developed by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the globe is one of 100 spheres of its kind, most of which are displayed at science museums and planetariums across the country. However, IU is one of only four universities currently offering the technology.

The total cost of the sphere and related NOAA support was about $150,000 and was funded by the Office of the Vice President of Information Technology, Wernert said. It was installed in April but is being publicized at length this week through Science on a Sphere Week, supported by the Office of the Vice President for Information Technology and the Advanced Visualization Lab, a unit of University Institutional Technology and Research.

NOAA showed interest in working with IU on the project due in part to the university’s history of international outreach, which will be reinforced through the upcoming School of Global and International Studies, Wernert said.  

“We found that the ‘Science on a Sphere’ was a very natural way to bring together our strengths in international collaborations ... with IU’s strengths in information technology,” Wernert said.

The globe will allow IU researchers, faculty and students to display a wide variety of global data patterns, whether it is oceanographic, atmospheric, political or economic.

For example, an IU student performing research regarding global wealth distribution could use the “Science on a Sphere” to visually display related data.

Most similar globe exhibits on display at museums present information primarily focused on climate or weather patterns, but IU’s exhibit has aimed to expand beyond geographic and weather data, Wernert said.  

Wernert said his team has even been working with the English department to display the locations of poets from medieval times.

“What I think that opens up for us is a much broader set of data sets and applications,” Wernert said. “That’s something you’re probably not going to see at a planetarium or science center.”

Wernert said he hopes students, faculty and researchers on campus will use the globe as a resource for their research. Students can email regarding their project, and the Advanced Visualization Lab will schedule a meeting to discuss the best way to display the data on the globe.

Wernert said he hopes students use Science on a Sphere Week to learn how the lab and exhibit can benefit their research or studies. The week’s activities include several tutorials and lectures from internationally-renowned journalists and artists involved in the project. 

Students can attend SOS after Dark at 8:30 p.m. Thursday to see the globe lit up in a dark setting.

If this project proves successful, Wernert said the University hopes to install other similar exhibits in the new building for the School of Global and International Studies and the Kelley School of Business, as well as in facilities at IUPUI.

“They were excited about what else it could do for IU,” Wernert said. “That’s why we’ve been trying to cast a web as wide as possible.”

Follow reporter Samantha Schmidt on Twitter @schmidtsam7.

A globe model hangs from the ceiling containing data on hurricanes for the Science on Sphere exhibit Monday at the Indiana University Cyberinfrastructure Building. Matailong Du Buy Photos
Globe models containing different types of data stand on display for the Science on Sphere exhibit Monday at the Indiana University Cyberinfrastructure Building. Matailong Du Buy Photos

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