News featuring Leanna L. House

Scientists partner on multi-university grant to establish a field of ‘imageomics’

The Imageomics Institute will create a new field of study that uses images of living organisms to understand biological life processes.

Researchers in three different disciplines at Virginia Tech are partnering in a $15 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to establish an institute in the new field of “imageomics,” aimed at creating a new frontier of biological information using vast stores of existing image data, such as publicly funded digital collections from national centers, field stations, museums, and individual laboratories. 

The goal of the institute is to characterize and discover patterns or biological traits of organisms from images and gain insights into how function follows form in all areas of biology. It will expand public understanding of the rules of life on Earth and how life evolves.

Imageomics is one of five Harnessing the Data Revolution institutes receiving support from the NSF.  

Anuj Karpatne, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and faculty at the Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics, is serving as one of four co-investigators for the multi-university project led by the Ohio State University. Leanna House, associate professor in the Department of Statistics and faculty at the Sanghani Center, and Josef Uyeda, assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, are designated senior personnel. All three researchers are part of the executive leadership team of the institute and investigators on Virginia Tech’s $1.4 million portion of the grant. Click here to read more about these scientists will apply their expertise to the project.

DAC faculty and students share research, organize workshop at 2018 IEEE VIS Conference in Berlin

Chris North, associate director of the Discovery Analytics Center, and Ph.D. students Michelle Dowling and John Wenskovitch will be in Berlin, Germany, from Oct. 21 to 26, attending the 2018 IEEE VIS Conference.

In addition to presenting their research, the three are organizers of a conference workshop: Machine Learning from User Interaction for Visualization and Analytics.

IEEE VIS is the worldwide largest and most important conference on Scientific Visualization, Information Visualization and Visual Analytics. It is the premier forum for advances in visualization in academia, science, government, industry, and beyond.

Dowling, who is also a National Science Foundation research trainee in the Urban Computing Certificate program, will present SIRIUS: Dual, Symmetric, Interactive Dimension Reductions, which she coauthored with Wenskovitch, DAC Ph.D. student J.T. Fry, and DAC faculty Leanna House, Scotland Leman, and North.

Wenskovitch will present the second accepted DAC paper, The Effect of Semantic Interaction on Foraging in Text Analysis, which he coauthored with DAC Ph.D. student Lauren Bradel, Dowling, House, and North.

The workshop taking place on Oct. 22 has been designed to bring together researchers from across all VIS fields to share their expertise and generate an open discussion about what is currently learned from user interaction and where future research in this area can go.

DAC Student Spotlight: Lata Kodali

Lata Kodali, DAC Ph.D. student in statistics

Lata Kodali looks at statistics as a great bridge between theory and application.

“It is  also a field that is applicable in a broad spectrum,” she said,  “and right now I see myself working in an industry position with a focus on research and design that also encourages creativity.”

Kodali has a bachelor’s degree from Carson-Newman University and a master’s degree from Wake Forest University, both in mathematics. Prior to her Ph.D. work, most of her experience was theoretical rather than applied.

On a recommendation by her undergraduate advisor, who was a Virginia Tech alum, Kodali applied to Virginia Tech’s Ph.D. program in statistics. She applied to a few other graduate schools as well but, she said, the department visit sealed the deal.

“Everyone was very friendly and encouraging, and there is a variety of research interests within the department,” she said. The atmosphere felt warm rather than competitive, and fellow students really are colleagues rather than competitors.”

Kodali is working in the Bayesian Visual Analytics (BaVA) research group with her advisor and DAC faculty Leanna House.

Her current research focuses on the uncertainty in interactive displays of data created from Weighted Multidimensional Scaling (WMDS). WMDS is a linear projection technique to display high-dimensional data into a two-dimensional projection.

“The problem with current displays is that there is no information included about how imperfect the two-dimensional projection is,” Kodali said. “My current project is using Bayesian modeling to find a way to quantify this information and display it within an interactive visualization to help guide analysts in their data explorations.“

Kodali’s interest in this area of research was peaked while assisting House with user studies in the introductory statistics course STAT 2004. The BaVA research group developed a program that incorporates interactivity of WMDS displays, essentially a non-traditional learning tool, to see what kind of inferences students could make about the data without using formal statistics.

“It was interesting to see how novice analysts handle such explorations when there are no numbers involved and they have complete freedom to look at whatever they would like,” she said.

Kodali’s other research interests include regression and ANOVA,  social science, economics, biology and environmental science.

She is on track to graduate in 2020.



NSF funds UrbComp, program focused on big data and urbanization


DAC will create and administer a new interdisciplinary Ph.D. certificate program called UrbComp, which is set to launch in spring 2016.  The UrbComp Ph.D. certificate is focused on big data and urbanization through a $3 grant over five years from the National Science Foundation Research Traineeship Program. UrbComp will be open to students from both the Blackburg and National Capital Region campuses who are pursuing a Ph.D. in one of eight departments: computer science, mathematics, statistics, electrical and computer engineering, population health sciences, urban affairs and planning, civil and environmental engineering, or sociology. To read more about the program click here.

Visual Analytics Team Awarded $1 Million NSF Grant


Members of the Visual Analytics team include (from left) Xinran Hu, Chris North, Leanna House, Scotland Leman, Lauren Bradel, Jessica Zeitz Self, and Ian Crandell.

Big Data: Everyone wants to use it; but few can. A team of researchers at Virginia Tech is trying to change that.

In an effort to make Big Data analytics usable and accessible to nonspecialist, professional, and student users, the team is fusing human-computer interaction research with complex statistical methods to create something that is both scalable and interactive.

“Gaining big insight from big data requires big analytics, which poses big usability problems,” said Chris North, a professor of computer science and associate director of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science’s Discovery Analytics Center.

With a $1 million from the National Science Foundation, North and his team are working to make vast amounts of data usable by changing the way people see it.

Yong Cao, an assistant professor with the Department of Computer Science in the College of Engineering, along with Leanna House, an assistant professor, and Scotland Leman, an associate professor, both with the Department of Statistics of the College of Science, are working with North to bring large data clouds down to manageable working sets. Read more.