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Starrett To Collaborate With University Of Georgia On Data Materialization Through SEC Grant

Courtney Starrett, graduate program director for Visualization and associate professor in the Texas A&M School of Performance, Visualization and Fine Arts, will visit the University of Georgia during this month’s fall semester break to host a workshop for students on data materialization through a grant from the Southeastern Conference Faculty Travel Program.

The program provides an opportunity for faculty members to travel to other schools in the athletics conference to share ideas, conduct research and host lectures.

Data materialization is a subgenre of data visualization, which serves to take data and make it accessible to people. Data materialization connects the data to a physical form.

Starrett will collaborate with Mary Hallam Pearse, associate professor of art, and Demi Thomloudis, associate professor of jewelry and metalwork, from Georgia’s Lamar Dodd School of Art jewelry and metalwork program. Starrett was familiar with the school after working with its study abroad program in Cortona, Italy.

“The students I’m going to work with use lots of different materials,” Starrett said. “They know how to make molds and fabricate things, and they often work with digital technologies. Working with a group of students with these skills and understanding of materials will be a really good way to introduce using data as one of the materials to create form.”

The workshop project will center on creating a strand of beads that represents something the maker is worried about, or “worry beads,” Starrett said. The idea emerged because everyone worries about something, she said.

As an example, Starrett is crafting worry beads that represent rates of recycled materials. Plastic is recycled less frequently than glass and metals, she said, and she will craft beads from these materials. The size is determined by the recycling rate, so materials that are more frequently recycled — like metals — will have large beads, while plastic beads will be small.

“The materials are very literal in that case, but there could be some more conceptual materials based on the worry,” Starrett said. “Students could make beads from unconventional materials, things that you wouldn’t normally think of a bead being made out of. The scale of them also gets very interesting due to the variation of whatever dataset they have.”

Students will identify their own worries and seek out data to either support or debunk them. They will use data as percentages, which can be translated to a relative size.

After conceptualization, students will work to fabricate their beads from a material representative of their worry.

The students will continue working on the project after Starrett’s departure, and the workshop will be integrated with Pearse’s and Thomloudis’ courses.

Starrett will introduce the concept and how to design and generate form, creating connections between students’ ideas and the materials they want to utilize. Pearse will teach the process of fabricating the beads and creating the strands.

“I hope that they get excited about using data as a material,” Starrett said. “I also hope they gain an understanding of the process of taking an idea and connecting it through research. They will have to dig to find data and figure out how to communicate that visually.”

Starrett has been working on developing a new class about data materialization, after previously teaching the concept in a theoretical capacity. The $1,500 grant from the SEC Faculty Travel Program will allow Starrett to introduce it to more students, and work closely with fellow professors at Georgia.

“There are some relationships already there, but it’s an additional way that we can build a bridge between our schools,” Starrett said. “It’s collaboration versus competition, too. I think it’s counter to some of what we do with athletics. We normally compete against each other, but in this case, we’re going to make something together.”

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