Guest lecturer to reveal intersection of science, creativity, communication

By Annabeth Carlson

Over the years, Foellinger Auditorium has presented a wide variety of established lecturers, scientists and performers, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Maya Angelou and Bill Gates. This tradition will continue on Thursday, when the auditorium hosts Edward Tufte at 7 p.m.
Tufte, a statistician, landscape sculptor and professor emeritus of political science, statistics and computer science at Yale University, will give a lecture titled “The Thinking Eye.”
“’The Thinking Eye’ is about seeing, thinking and producing at a high level in science and art,” Tufte wrote in an e-mail. “Examples come from Galileo, Paul Klee, Tim Berners-Lee, xkcd and hi-res 6k maps moving in time.”
This lecture will not be the first for Tufte, as he often teaches one-day courses at various venues across the United States. During his career, Tufte wrote and designed four books about data visualization. These include “Beautiful Evidence,” “Visual Display of Quantitative Information,” “Envisioning Information” and “Visual Explanations.”
These works led New York Times to call Tufte the “Leonardo da Vinci of Data,” and Business Week calling him the “Galileo of Graphics.” Along with his lectures and courses, Tufte is presently building a sculpture park in Connecticut that will house his artwork.
Colleen Bannon Bushell, a senior research scientist in the Visual Analytics Group at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, organized the lecture. Tufte is a former colleague of Bushell’s, and when he decided to visit campus, they decided to set up an opportunity to share his project. Because Tufte tends to draw a big crowd, Bushell said they chose to have it in Foellinger Auditorium to  accommodate a large amount of people.
Tufte wrote that the talk will be part of his happy tour around Illinois, as he will get to see his friends from the NCSA.
Bushell said she thinks students should attend the lecture because they can learn from Tufte about a topic that is applicable to a variety of fields.
“What Edward is able to do so well is describe and demonstrate how you can communicate information more clearly so people understand it, and that (skill) applies to so many different areas of work like science,” Bushell said.
Others share Bushell’s high regard for Tufte, including Cinda Heeren, University senior lecturer in computer science and Larry DeBrock, the dean of the College of Business.
“Tufte is both a master and the founder of the field of Data Visualization,” Heeren wrote in an email. “I feel a little bit like Paul McCartney is coming to town!”
Heeren also said she is grateful to Tufte for his work, because it directly shows there is room in computer science for elegance and creativity.
As for DeBrock, Tufte’s work has influenced how he views data and explains it. He said he is curious about what will be covered in the lecture.
“It’s been a while since he wrote a book, so it will be interesting to see what he is thinking about now,” DeBrock said.
Thursday’s lecture will be free and open to the public.
Annabeth can be reached at [email protected].