To conclude. There is no question about the importance of imagery and visualization in science. All the images I showed are associated with great scientific discoveries, and, in fact, several were associated with Nobel Prizes. Most scientists are enthusiastic about visualization. Experiments have shown that scientists tend to have high spatial ability, and many scientists have personally described the important role of mental imagery in their creative process.

However, it is important to keep in mind that scientists invent visualizations to help them solve specific problems. The visualizations they create result from insightful theories, inspired experimental design, and careful analysis. Their visualizations answer specific questions; validate or invalidate competing hypotheses. Finally, the scientific method is structured. Flying around data randomly, like doing random experiments, is not generally productive.

You may have noticed that I have not shown many computer-generated visualizations. To be honest, there are not a lot of great ones to choose from. I encourage everyone to think: why is this so? And to contribute your thoughts to the efforts to define a research agenda that will result in tools that allow visualization to support experimentation, analysis and discovery.

Copyright© 2005 by Pat Hanrahan