More than a game of Pictionary

Draw me a picture. Have you ever been asked to do this when explaining a complicated idea or concept? That is just what researchers were asked to do for this years’ Young Investigator Research Days (YIRD) Data Visualization competition. But when you ask a scientist with advanced visualization tools to do this, you get more than a doodle or stick figure drawing.

Researchers regularly use a variety of scientific software to simplify and represent data that is abstract and complex. Bar graphs and scatter plots are common fare, but researchers’ toolboxes also contain tools such as interaction maps, Voronoi diagrams and two- and three-dimensional imaging.

The first place winner of the 2014 inaugural event, Kobe Yuen, a predoctoral researcher in the Gerton Lab, used a bioinformatics software program to show the results of ChIP-seq experiments which reveal where protein binding occurs on DNA.

In his visualization, the outer orange histogram shows the binding of Nipped-B-like (NIPBL) protein in the genome of human B cells. The blue scatter plot shows the enzyme Pol II binding and the heat map shows the distribution patterns of different proteins and protein modifications.

By comparing a side-by-side visualization of his experimental results, Yuen was able to extrapolate that “the binding of NIPBL is strongly correlated with Pol II and may, in fact, play a role in Pol II dependent gene expression.”

Another winning visualization technique that has gained mainstream popularity uses the Wordle web application to plot a frequency map in the form of a word cloud. Rushi Trivedi, a graduate student in the Conaway Lab, mined PubMed, a clearinghouse of scientific publications, for titles of all Stowers Institute published papers.

Using font size, he represented the 150 most frequently occurring scientific terms. The larger the word, the more frequently it appears. “I think the word cloud provides a clear picture of the focus of research at Stowers,” explains Trivedi. “Words like cells, protein, genes, histones, development, signaling represent the basic scientific focus of our research.” View this and other winning scientific and data visualization images at

YIRD event winners include:

Poster Session I:
WINNER –Yuichiro Nakajima (Gibson Lab)
RUNNER-UP –Takuya Akiyama (Gibson Lab)
HONORABLE MENTION –Swaminathan Venkatesh (Workman Lab)

Poster Session II:
WINNER – Andres Romero-Carvajal (Piotrowski Lab)
RUNNER-UP – Wanqing Shao (Zeitlinger Lab)
HONORABLE MENTION – Kristi Jensen (Baumann Lab)

Oral Session I:
WINNER – John Perry (Linheng Li Lab)
RUNNER-UP – Elizabeth Duncan (Sánchez Alvarado Lab)

Oral Session II:
WINNER – Liying Li (Si Lab)
RUNNER-UP – Longhua Guo (Sánchez Alvarado Lab)

Image competition:
1st place: Sarah Elliott (Sánchez Alvarado Lab)
2nd place: Ryan Mohan (Workman Lab)
3rd place: Praveen Suraneni (Rong Li Lab)

Data visualization:
1st place: Kobe Yuen (Gerton Lab)
2nd place: Rushi Trivedi (Conway Lab)
3rd place: Mihaela Sardiu (Proteomics)

Most Popular Oral Session I
selected by members
Tamara Potapova (Rong Li Lab)

Most Popular Oral Session II
selected by members
Rushi Trivedi (Conaway Lab)

Most Popular Poster Session I
selected by members
Juston Weems (Conaway Lab)

Most Popular Poster Session II
selected by members
Parama Paul (Rong Li Lab)

YIRD Award for Highest Scientific Representation by a Lab
Rong Li Lab