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MIT Technology Review

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  • Jeffrey Heer

    Age:
    30

    Lists of numbers often don’t mean as much as charts, graphs, and interactive graphics that can reveal unexpected trends. To help people make them, Jeff Heer, an assistant professor of computer science, led a project that created easy-to-use open-source visualization software called Protovis.

    Programs like Microsoft’s Excel make it simple to turn data into charts, but they provide few options. Powerful analytical programming languages can do more but are complicated to use. Protovis lets people who have only token programming skills concentrate on the design of a visualization rather than worrying about how to structure complex computer code. The software provides chunks of code that correspond to different aspects of visual information display, such as shapes and colors; users string these chunks together to c­reate a complete graphic. People can also easil­y integrate the visualizations into Web pages to facilitate sharing and discussion. Protovis currently runs in Web browsers such as F­irefox, Chrome, and Safari. Heer is working on tools that make it easier to create inter­active and animated graphics. –Kate Greene

    Easy Imagery: Jeff Heer’s tools enable people with minimal programming experience to generate intricate and informative data visualizations, like this re-creation of a chart originally published in 1951 to show the effectiveness of three antibiotics.
    Courtesy of Jeffrey Heer