Alyssa Goodman

Seeing Science

Monday, 15 December 2008, 16:00, Large Operon

Alyssa Goodman, Harvard University


Visualisation is a challenge in all of science. As data sets and simulations grow and become more complex, the need to distill information into forms fit for human consumption becomes increasingly critical to the advancement of science. Computational technology is responsible for most of the "data deluge" all scientists are faced with today, and it has also enabled a host of new ways to "See Science." In order to get the most from data, a careful combination of thought, about new and old ideas on information design and about the (potential) meaning of the data themselves, is needed. This talk will focus on how best to communicate science within the scientific community, and beyond. I will focus not only on the "technology" behind scientific visualsation, but also on the connections between image and meaning, and on how those connections are best made.


Alyssa Goodman is Professor of Astronomy at Harvard University, and a Research Associate of the Smithsonian Institution. Goodman and her research group at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, MA study the dense gas between the stars. They are particularly interested in how this interstellar gas arranges itself into new stars. Their investigations use a variety of observational techniques covering the spectral range from X-ray to radio.

Goodman is P.I. of The COMPLETE Survey of Star-Forming Regions, which, in 2006, finished mapping out three very large star-forming regions in our Galaxy in their entirety. These three regions were also fully observed by the Spitzer Space Telescope, under the c2d "Legacy" Program, in 2004-5. The COMPLETE Survey represents a data set of unparalleled diversity and is of order one thousand times larger than what was available a decade ago. The database is allowing astrophysicists to address questions like "how many stars like the Sun can form from a given mass of gas in the Milky Way?"

Goodman also has a strong interest in scientific computing. She co-founded the The Initiative in Innovative Computing (IIC) and Harvard, and she served as its Director from 2005-8. The IIC is a multi-disciplinary center that fosters new work at the boundary between computing and science. Goodman's own research in the this area focuses on new ways to visualize and analyze the tremendous data volumes created by surveys like COMPLETE. Presently, she is working closely with colleagues at Microsoft Research, helping to expand the use of the World Wide Telescope program.

Goodman also teaches several courses at Harvard, on both astrophysics and on the display of data, including one called "The Art of Numbers."

Goodman received her undergraduate degree in Physics from MIT in 1984 and a Ph.D. in Physics from Harvard in 1989. She held a President's Fellowship at the University of California at Berkeley from 1989-92, after which she took up a post as Assistant Professor of Astronomy at Harvard. In 1997, she received the Newton Lacy Pierce Prize from the American Astronomical Society for her work on interstellar matter and became full professor at Harvard in 1999. She currently serves as Chair of the Astronomy Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.