Her Story 2015

Bridging the gap between the world of big data and the masses

Katy Börner smiles at the camera, she is standing in a long white corridor
Katy Börner

Katy Börner is an Indiana University star of stage and screen. She's walked the red carpet at the science film festival hosted at the nation's largest general scientific conference -- the American Association for the Advancement of Science -- and she's represented her collaborative film work "Humanexus" as it was screened at the world-renowned Cannes Film Festival.

From live presentations during TEDxBloomington to speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Börner's forte is bridging the gap between the world of big data and information overload with the masses, folks like you and me, who are so often challenged by both.

She does it with pictures -- printed on either large sheets of paper, or online -- that are technically described as information visualizations. They pull together enormous data sets that result in visual insights: the percentage of late and early flight arrivals in the U.S. for more than 123 million flights; where and what kind of academic jobs were to be found in the U.S. mapped geospatially and overlaid on a topic map; or the number of edits and strengths of connections between 650,000 different Wikipedia articles.

Map created by Katy Börner.View print quality image
Börner has been curating the international Places & Spaces: Mapping Science exhibit for 10 years.

"As an engineer, I like to create things that are useful to others," said the Victor H. Yngve Professor of Information Science at IU Bloomington's School of Informatics and Computing. "I have always enjoyed tinkering and building, in the real world and in information spaces."

The Cyberinfrastructure for Network Science Center that Börner directs employs over 20 staff, students and hourly workers devoted to research and development of new methods and tools to study the structure and dynamics of science. The center's results have been documented in over 250 publications, and its plug-and-play macroscope tools and services are used by hundreds of thousands of people around the globe.

With a mission to communicate the value and beauty of science and technology developments to a general audience, Börner has been curating the international Places & Spaces: Mapping Science exhibit for 10 years. The exhibit is a vast collection of information visualizations designed to introduce science mapping techniques to the general public and to experts across diverse disciplines for educational, scientific and practical purposes.

Several of the maps are featured in the Atlas of Science and the Atlas of Knowledge. The large-scale coffee table books published by MIT Press detail the history, theoretical foundations, and the making of science and technology maps. Currently, Börner is working on the third book in the series, the Atlas of Foresight, which will focus on computational models of science and technology.

Graphic by Katy Börner.View print quality image
Using nearly 270,000 publication references and 61,000 Web links, this visualization summarizes a vast amount of information about the bibliographic connections across different academic disciplines, including how social sciences are linked to health professionals who, in turn, are connected to some of the natural sciences. Map Courtesy of Nianli Ma, Russell J. Duhon, Elisha F. Hardy, and Katy Börner

Börner deeply believes that in the information age, the ability to read and write data visualizations is as important as being able to read and write text. As much a passionate teacher as researcher, she was the first IU professor to offer a massive open online course, the Information Visualization MOOC. Students from over 100 countries have taken the course, which teaches the theoretical foundations and tools to render data into visual insights.

Asked about how to empower other women to be successful, she said: "More and more women are in positions where they can truly make a difference in another woman's life. Look around and organize the next 'girls' night out,' give advice, provide a career opportunity, or offer other support to your female friends and colleagues. Then simply lean back and enjoy seeing just how much women rock."