How can interactive data visualization help scientists and engineers explore their data more effectively? How can computing, design, and design thinking help maximize research results? What methodologies are most effective for leveraging knowledge from these fields? Through an intensive 10-week summer R+D internship program we are developing new ways of addressing these issues.

The program brings faculty and researchers from Caltech, JPL and Art Center together to develop custom-built interactive data visualization tools for current science and engineering research at Caltech and JPL. We encode relational information with appropriate visual and interactive characteristics to help interrogate, and ultimately gain new insight into data. Through the program we are developing new interdisciplinary approaches to wicked science problems, leveraging design thinking and the latest methods from computing, User-Centered Design, interaction design and 3D graphics.

In the News: Visualization Brings Data to Life | Dialing in to Noise | Visualization of fMRI Network Data | Data Visualization from Data to Discovery: Art Center + Caltech + JPL
past collaborations

| Victoria Scarffe-Barrett, NASA/JPL Mars Exploration Rover Team

Engineering challenge: Report, visualize, and offer an analysis tool for Opportunity rover telecommunications.
Visualization challenge: Visualizing and comparing predictions of telecomunnications across channels, times and locations. Visualization solution: A user-friendly system for analyzing telemetry predictions, allowing for quick informed decisions making, and optimization of path of the rover given all constraints.

| Dr. Arun Viswanathan, JPL Cyber Defense Engineering

Engineering challenge: Offer ground support from JPL's cybersecurity anomalies.
Visualization challenge: Visualize the health state of JPL's MSL network enabling anolmaly discovery and tracking Visualization solution: Tool that offers at a glance as well as detailed information of system, utilizing a plugin detection algorithms system, inside an interactive visualization to monitor and inspect anomalous attributes.

| Dr. Elliot Meyerowitz & Dr. Alex Cunha, Caltech Biology & CD3

Engineering challenge: Enabling visual segmentation of three dimensional plant cells embedded in volume.
Visualization challenge: Overcoming 2D limitations of interface while giving a sense of locatino, completion, and quality control. Visualization solution: A web based tool, that allows users to identify cell boundaries by brushing across tandem views of intersecting 2D slices within a carefully crafted 3D context with immediate result feedback.

| Jeffrey Stuart, Scott Evans, JPL Mission Design Navigation Group

Engineering challenge: Fly spacecraft efficiently to points of scientific interest.
Visualization challenge: Make high-dimensional trajectory design more tractable through interactive visualization. Visualization solution: A visual tool offers intuitive interaction with 3D and 2D representations of trajectories with quantitative data query options.

GLACIER ICE FLOW | Dr. Mark Simons, Caltech Geophysics

Science challenge: Understand glacier flow and variability at different timescales. Visualization challenge: Visually represent the movement of ocean tides and inland Antarctic ice streams over varying timescales. Visualization solution: An interactive tool generates a unified visualization of velocity in space and time and supports exploration of quantitative data.

3DDNA | Dr. Mitch Guttman, Caltech Biology/Bioengineering

Science challenge: Understand the activity of genes in proximity to one another due to folds in the genome. Visualization challenge: Represent the 3D structure of DNA to support exploration of new relationships to its other functions. Visualization solution: An interactive platform visualizing the genome in 2D and 3D allows users to select and compare structures of interest at varying resolutions.

| John Wright & Frank Hartman, JPL Rover Surface Operations

Engineering challenge: Drive the Mars Rover efficiently to points of scientific interest. Visualization challenge: Streamline rover path planning by simultaneously visualizing terrain data, rover stability, time and distance. Visualization solution: An intuitive tool that reduces cognitive load and enables drivers to quickly sketch, analyze and output an optimal path.

CELL LINES | Dr. Michael Elowitz, Caltech Biology

Science challenge: Understand the activity of related cells in expanding colonies. Visualization challenge: Track the lineage of gene expression in cells over time with overlapping data in movies, gene expression levels and cell lineage hierarchies. Visualization solution: A streamlined visual tool for researchers to dynamically track, filter and compare gene expression patterns across multiple data sets at once. Update: *Newer version now named cellerie

| Dr. Joseph Mazzarella, Caltech IPAC

Science challenge: Understand how the cosmic environment effects star formation and active galactic nuclei. Visualization challenge: Intuitively visualize spatial relataionships and parametric data cataloged in the NED (NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database) collection of all known objects in the universe. Visualization solution: An interactive web tool that represents the universe in 3D, allows users to select, filter and compare regions of interest.

LIGO | Dr. Rana Adhikari, Caltech Physics

Science Challenge: Discover gravitational waves. Engineering challenge: Understand the state of a hyper-sensitive laser interferometer, instrumented with 10,000 sensors. Visualization challenge: Summarize 10k telemetry channels to allow for real-time machine diagnostics and post-hoc scientific discovery. Visualization Solution: A streamlined interface identifies outliers in the data. It visually codifies a wide variety of data channels (including video and sound sources) to reduce cognitive overload, emphasis patterns to draw relationships between channels, while maintaining visual consistency.

FLUID DYNAMICS | Dr. Beverley McKeon, Caltech Aerospace

Science Challenge: Manipulate wall-bounded fluid flow to improve vehicle performance. Visualization problem: Visualize of the building blocks of wall turbulence, an otherwise apparently chaotic flow phenomenon. Visualization solution: Specially-designed software permits a single building block, essentially a three-dimensional, propagating wave, to be visualized using velocity vectors and particle traces. The flow history identified via particle traces reveals rotational structure.

NEUTRON SCATTERING | Dr. Brent Fultz, Caltech Physics

Science challenge: Understand heat transfer through solid crystals. Visualization problem: Present a 5-dimensional space showing (3 dimensions of momentum, energy and spin), and allow interaction and dynamic filtering. Visualization solution: An interactive tool to explore the volume and provides control over the amount of information seen at one time.

Visualization Team

Program Leaders and Advisors

Scott Davidoff | Maggie Hendrie | Santiago Lombeyda | Hillary Mushkin

Summer Visualization Students

talented graduate and undergraduate students selected from computer science and design programs nationwide. Call for Students

Caltech and JPL science and engineering groups

faculty, postdocs and graduate students selected from an RFP. Call for Data
how does the program work?
A team of five students (2 designers, 3 creative computer scientists) work on 3 Caltech/JPL data visualization projects for ten weeks. The designers work on all three projects; each computer scientist is devoted to a single project. They receive mentorship in visualization, computing and design from the program advisors. Students work closely with scientific or engineering researchers to understand their research and data, identify their visualization needs and determine the relevance of design iterations to their research and data.

In the first few weeks, the visualization team gains an appropriate understanding of the science and engineering data through intensive discussions with researchers and exploration of the data. Thereafter, researchers meet with students weekly to explain their data, discuss their needs and provide feedback on relevance of design iterations to their research and data. Students also meet weekly with the visualization advisors to present work in progress, ask questions, and get feedback. At the end of the summer, researchers have operating bespoke visualization software which they can use to further their research.


sample schedule

Week 1-2

Introductory meeting

  • Data visualization program mentors give researchers an introduction to the program methodology
  • Research groups present research + visualization challenges to interns and data visualization program mentors
  • Researchers Present Project + Discussion

  • Researchers give more detail to interns
  • What are you trying to accomplish in your research?
  • What are current visualization methods? Show examples
  • What limitations are you trying to get beyond?
  • Format of the data - how big is it, file format, how to access it?
  • Follow up interviews

    Interns ask researchers in-depth follow-up questions and observe them working with the data as they "think aloud"

    Weeks 2-9

  • Weekly Meetings
  • Students present their work in progress and request feedback
  • Researchers discuss their needs with interns and provide feedback on relevance of design iterations to their research and data
  • Advisors provide feedback and guidance to students
  • Week 10

  • Final Presentation
  • Data handoffs: students deliver code of working prototype and user guide
  • call for students
    closed/2018 CALL COMING SOON
    Call for Interns: Help Us Solve Hard Problems with Visualization

    We want talented, passionate, self-motivated students with skills and experience in data visualization, or disciplinary experience in Computer Science, Interaction Design, Human-Computer Interaction or related disciplines.


    dataviz, HCI, computer science (modular coding), web based coding, ability to anticipate and adapt to new types of code; discrete math, graph theory, statistics; physics.


    Interaction design, user centered design, graphic design, 3D animation, collaborative coding and/or design.

    Students should be interested in working on research quality problems. Students will be the primary communicators with scientists and engineers; students' understanding of the data and visualization challenges will contribute significantly to the scope and shape of the project.


    10 weeks June 12 - August 18, 2017 (To be confirmed)


    Applicants must be continuing students (GPA ≥3.0). Students graduating before fall 2017 are not eligible to apply. Work at NASA requires that students are US citizens or permanent residents.

    Interested students should send CV and a 1-page application to scott.davidoff@jpl.nasa.gov. Applications should include the following information:

  • What is your experience with data visualization?
  • What are your experience working in multidisciplinary teams?
  • What are your technical skills?
  • Links to examples of your work, with supporting explanation.
  • call for data
    closed/2018 CALL COMING SOON

    Call for Collaborators+Data: We Want Hard Problems to Solve with Visualization

    We are looking for people and projects that would benefit from innovative data visualization approaches. Ideal projects are those that already have large, complex, or interesting data sets that would benefit from creative design-informed visualization approaches involving interactivity, animation and still design formats. Clear, well defined problems with tangible outcomes that may be achieved within the limits of the summer are most appropriate.

    How does funding work?

    The program funds two (of three) students on every project team, as well as the time and costs for mentors. Researchers partners are required to fund one additional intern at SURF/JPL SIP rates.


    10 weeks June 12 - August 18, 2017 (To be confirmed)


    Interested researchers should send a 1-2 page application to hmushkin@caltech.edu by December 10, 2016. Applications should include the following: