Becoming a geologist was not the original aspiration for Mian Liu, Professor of Geological Sciences. The Chinese government assigned him to the discipline when he was 17 years old, a course of study he later followed at Nanjing University. His initial lack of interest in geology had much to do with the way the subject was taught. “The focus was not on understanding the processes; we were forced to memorize lots of facts,” he explains. Instead, Liu’s earliest interest was in physics, which “just seemed more intuitive.” He began sitting in on a variety of lectures and found that he preferred learning about geophysics, the physics of the Earth, eventually earning a Ph.D. in that area from the University of Arizona.
Going far beyond maps, as one might presume, “Geography is the study of human-environment interactions,” explains Soren Larsen, Assistant Professor of Geography at MU. The discipline as a whole covers activity ranging from physical geography (e.g., wind erosion and weather patterns), techniques (e.g., modeling air pollution with GIS, or Geographic Information Systems, to understand the interactions between humans and the environment), and something called human geography, a subfield that focuses on the political, economic, cultural, urban, and regional elements of human-environment interactions. Human geographers cast their eyes on “the impact of the environment on human behavior,” as well as “the impact of human activity on the environment.” Within human geography Larsen specializes in cultural geography. While traditionally that may have entailed mapping the distribution of various cultural traits to track changes over space and time, cultural geography today is much more process-focused, drawing heavily upon the methodologies and theories of anthropology, psychology, sociology, and philosophy.
With all the different projects Professor Chi-Ren Shyu has on his proverbial plate, it's hard to imagine he has any time to sleep. Yet with easy finesse and exuberance, Shyu describes just a few of his ongoing "joyful and rewarding" research initiatives, ranging from biomedical and geospatial informatics to computer imaging of medical images. Not surprisingly, Shyu has gained a well-earned reputation for his collaborative work. Although diverse, what these research interests share is the effort to create large-scale, fast, and multidimensional databases.
As if Liu’s “plate” isn’t full enough, he also has his hand in a research project called GEON (Geoscience Network) supported by the National Science Foundation. This initiative involves a dozen institutions along with the San Diego Supercomputer Center. The goal is to create a prototype of geosciences cyberinfrastructure, so “that any scientist can have any kind of data at his or her fingertips.”
Larsen gathers his data through a variety of different methods ranging from ethnographic field research to content analysis and GIS. But the method he prefers is called “participant observation,” an approach in which “you go and live with the people for an extended period of time, so you can start to learn how they think and feel and act.” In fact, Larsen considers participant observation to be a base line for all the research he does because “you gain an insight by participating in the culture.”
Demonstration by doctoral student Matt Klaric of how the GeoI system works.
“Googling” for visual phenotypes in plants to examine for mutations or disease.
GeoIris: a project supported by the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.
Demonstration by Shyu of the protein database.
Demonstration by doctoral student Matt Klaric of how the GeoIris system works.
The new database that offers real time, high-accuracy searches for researchers.