Much like individual stars coalesce to form constellations, information visualization software developed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory helps decision-makers see the importance of individual pieces of data by showing how they relate to one another.
The Laboratory's Starlight software--originally developed for the intelligence community--allows users to analyze data files with up to 100,000 records quickly and easily. Starlight uses shapes to represent pieces of information such as documents or news-wire reports. When relationships exist within the information, the shapes cluster together on the system's three-dimensional display.
"The idea is that you're 'looking' at the information," said John Pinto, project manager. "You can recognize subtle relationships more easily by looking at visual metaphors than at tables of data."
As an example, Pinto described how Starlight might be used to look for correlations in a database containing records about chemical spills. An analyst could begin by grouping records according to the cause of the spill to reveal general trends. Sorting the data a second time, she could apply different colors based on related details such as the company responsible, age of equipment or geographic location. Maps and photographs could be integrated into the display, making it even easier to recognize connections among multiple variables.
The Laboratory began developing Starlight about five years ago, with funding from the Land Information Warfare Agency, a part of the Army Intelligence and Security Command. Starlight integrates visual representations of reports, radio transcripts, radar signals, maps and other information.
The Laboratory is pursuing other commercial applications for Starlight, which could include law enforcement, patent analysis and medical and legal research.
The Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.