NASA: Data Lens

Merit Award 2018

The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is the largest combined organization of scientists and engineers in the US; 10,000 employees and contractors study earth, the solar system and the universe via observations from earth and space. They built and control the Hubble Space Telescope, and built and tested the James Webb Space Telescope.

The Center wanted to provide a fresh perspective on earth science, communicate that earth is a neighborhood and convey NASA’s holistic way of studying our planet. They specifically wanted to avoid any doom and gloom scenarios, while making it digestible for visitors of middle school age.

NASA: Data Lens in the Earth Science Gallery at the NASA Goddard Visitor Center, designed by Bluecadet Interactive, is part of a permanent exhibition titled Neighborhood Earth. The purpose of Data Lens is to show earth as a connected environmental system.

Every day, NASA’s scientists capture millions of data points about earth’s ecological systems. To help non-scientists actually understand this data, Bluecadet created a digital touch-wall that clearly illuminates the interconnections and interdependencies between earth’s air, water and biological systems. Data Lens turns daunting scientific data into an engaging, accessible and even playful experience that conveys a clear understanding of the precarious natural balance that defines our planet’s systems, along with a sense of awe at the majestic complexity of life on earth.

Bluecadet Interactive took an iterative approach to their collaboration with NASA and their partners at RGI. Their process included multiple user testing sessions for ADA and general interface usability, blind tests testers verbalizing what they were doing, testers from various age groups (one test day included only children) and giving testers goals to perform to document the friction points. The outcome was a unique interactive tool that allows multiple visitors to explore, compare and juxtapose NASA’s rich data visualizations.

A major technical challenge was rendering up to six 4K videos at 60fps and real time interaction; they used Windows Media Foundation framework in combination with a powerful Nvidia Quadro P5000 GPU to render videos. Other challenges included selecting hardware that could support video and interaction needs (on a budget) and working with NASA’s visualization studio to consolidate styles across the over 30 scientific visualizations they provided.

The Data Lens experience takes what might otherwise be daunting scientific data and renders them as compelling and playful. By exploring and engaging with these visualizations, visitors not only discover the interplay among our planet’s systems, they also experience a sense of awe and a better understanding of the way our world works.

Perhaps most rewarding for the Bluecadet Interactive design team was to hear NASA scientists say that this interactive allowed them to look at their data in completely new ways.

Jury Comments: 

"A perfect example for an intuitive interface to show scientific data to a broad audience. The unique way of merging two views into one makes it outstanding."

"I cannot tell you how nice it is to see scientific data presented in an elegant way. The ability to layer data takes it a step further. This is a shining example of data done well."

Design Firms: 

Bluecadet Interactive

Client: 

NASA Goddard Visitor Center

Project Area: 

5,000 sq ft

Open Date: 

June 2017

Photo Credits: 

Dan King / Bluecadet (photography, videography)

Design Team: 

Bluecadet Design Team: Brett Renfer (creative director); Nate Renninger (designer); Devon Burgoyne (motion designer); Ben Bojko (tech director); Peter Chapman, Henry Steinberg (developer); Liz Russell (content strategist); Peter Hall (senior producer)

RGI Exhibition Design Team: Ryan Gerber (exhibition and fabricator), Sarah Shuster-Tucker (content developer), David Diehl (main exhibit designer), Kay Simecek (exhibit designer), Cynthia Ivary (project manager)

Consultants: 

NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio, RGI Creative

Fabricators: 

RGI, Inc.

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