Seed's inaugural edition of the State of Science explores the current scientific landscape and its emergent hotspots—along with the motivations and ambitions of the individuals charting its future.

Read more Seed State of Science 2008

Revolutionary Minds: Carl Bergstrom

How does knowledge emerge from data?
What new tools are available to manipulate and interpret data?


Elastic Data for the Elastic Mind

Moritz Stefaner, a researcher at Fachhochschule Potsdam currently working on visualizations for the Eigenfactor project, applies cognitive science and design to the study of interfaces, visualization, statistics, and data mining. "Aesthetics in truly emergent informatics," he says, "is the perfect unity of information and form, and can only be achieved by an iterative interplay between creation and analysis. Great visualization is never a one-shot process." For his thesis work, Stefaner set out to produce visual tools for analyzing and revealing the interrelationship of data—or as he calls it, the "shape of information." An elastic tag map visualizes the connections between emerging keywords used to describe digital resources. An algorithm arranges tags by proximity on a 2D plane, while rollover action brings related keywords together—weighting relative probabilities of co-occurrence—and clicking locks the terms in place by semantic context. His elastic list of Nobel laureates generates customizable lists of prizewinners across multiple dimensions (discipline, gender, country, year), visualizing relative proportions by size, the characteristics of these proportions through brightness adjustments, and trends within each metadata point with embedded sparklines. Both of these tools have prototypical applications for next-generation search engines and digital interfaces. Watch the tools in action, while the designer explains:

For more information or to interact with the interfaces, visit



W. Bradford Paley is an interactive designer who teaches at Columbia University. He has been doing visual work on computers since 1973.

"Knowledge" and "data" are just names for different stages in sense making. I'd include "information" as another—though these are all just arbitrary terms until you put them into the context of a process (as the question does, with "emerge from"). If we consider a baby looking at an apple:

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