VR, 3D Printing, and Storytelling at 2019 NYU Research Day

By Victoria Lubas. Video by Jen Sloan. | November 20, 2019


Showcasing and Celebrating What Technology Can Do for You

Seven years ago, in November 2012, the Research Commons on the fifth floor of Bobst Library was temporarily transformed from a bustling study and research space into a showcase for digital humanities projects being conducted by NYU students and faculty. This inaugural GIS Day¹ was a partnership between NYU IT Data Services and the NYU Libraries and focused on the GIS tools Data Services makes available to the NYU community. In the years since, Data Services has been hosting an annual event for NYU researchers to interact and network.

In recent years, the annual event has evolved and incorporated the growing number of people and departments using data and technology in innovative ways. This year, as the interest in and need for data-oriented tools continues to spread throughout every academic field of study, Himanshu Mistry, manager of Data Services and co-organizer of the event, decided with his NYU Libraries and NYU IT Research Technology colleagues, that the scope should be further broadened. So, on November 6, 2019, the event that began as a way to highlight the capabilities of GIS tools, was renamed NYU Research Day.

Mapping with Data

The 2019 NYU Research Day honored its GIS roots by featuring a Map and Data Visualization Competition and a User Map+Viz Gallery. Mistry explained, “Students, staff, and faculty submit their visualizations or maps as entries, and it’s voted on by all the attendees of the event.” This year’s ten entries focused on social issues such as population density, Airbnb data, terrorism, and wildfire statistics. They highlighted the core benefit of data visualization: representing large, complex sets of input in understandable and interactive ways that can then be acted upon.

Yichun Liu, MS candidate in Management and Systems at NYU School of Professional Studies, won first place for the project “Want to Be an Airbnb Host in NYC?” Liu gathered data from the Airbnb website and used Tableau to create bar graphs and pie charts depicting information about Airbnb listings in New York; such as the number of bookings by borough and at given prices, and comparisons of price to square footage and price to sleeping arrangements. Said Liu, “My visualization aids users who potentially want to be Airbnb hosts to have a deeper understanding about the price range based on a property’s condition, such as location, room type, bed type, etc.”

Second place went to “Mapping the Mariners Church” by Emily Fenster, a master’s student studying English literature. Fenster’s project used ArcGIS StoryMaps to mark the sites of Henry Chase’s 1820s Mariners’ Church missionary work. As Fenster explained, “This data is from the diaries of Henry Chase, held at the New York Historical Society. I manually entered the data, then found corresponding coordinates for addresses using Google Maps and the metadata for the Perris Atlases provided by the New York Public Library (NYPL) Space/Time Directory. The basemap is from the NYPL Map Warper.”

Patrick Bond, an MA candidate focused on human rights and digital humanities, won third place for “Terror in the U.S., 1970-2018.” The project used Tableau to depict data from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). The project showed the location of terror attacks in the US from 1970 through 2018, with a series of symbols and colors representing targets and terrorist groups. Bond’s project also included charts analyzing weapons used, number of deaths, and the number of attacks per year. Bond described his project: “This data story is intended to help bring some understanding to political violence in the United States through analyzing the ideologies, methods, targets, and casualties.”

two people talking at a table coovered in display boards

Augmented and Virtual Reality, and 3D Printing

In addition to the Map and Data Visualization Competition, Research Day featured a popular augmented reality (AR) sandbox. The AR sandbox consisted of an Xbox Kinect 3D camera situated over the sand. It senses the sandbox’s topography and sends the data to a computer with AR software. Digital Humanities technology specialist Marii Nyrop explained that this happens in real time, allowing the projected map to change as a person moves the sand. The sandbox can be used in STEM² education to demonstrate things such as proper dam construction and the simulated paths of flooding.

On hand to represent NYU IT’s Teaching & Learning with Technology (TLT) and Data Services’ neighbor in the Research Commons, the Digital Studio, Dave LaSala, leader of the Interactive Development Team for Learning Experience Design discussed his group’s work with the Silver School of Social Work on a VR project that simulates visiting the home of an elderly client with health problems. The goal, according to LaSala, is to give social work students a chance to “practice what that scenario is like, making sure that they’re maintaining their professionalism and asking the right questions in making a general assessment of the environment itself.”

VR is becoming easier to program and experience thanks to the new VR authoring tool, Wonda, and through the Digital Studio’s recently-acquired Oculus Quest VR headsets. LaSala also explained his group’s AR project that focuses more on the conversational elements of professional exchanges than on environmental factors, helping the learner with “anything that might involve interacting with someone conversationally, in which you have to be precise in your dialogue.”

The LaGuardia Studio (LGS), known for its advanced 3D printing services, hosted a table to demonstrate the scanning and printing technology used in the widely-reported face transplant performed at NYU Langone Health. Andrew Buckland, manager of the LaGuardia Studio, explained that for their Research Day contribution, LGS provided a quick look at their work by scanning attendees faces alongside completed 3D prints on display. Buckland explained that LGS makes the most of rapidly evolving computers to provide increased detail in 3D scans.

Other booths representing NYU’s data research included Data Services, Research Technology, Digital Libraries Technology Services, Digital Scholarship Services, High Performance Computing, and the NYU Wasserman Center for Career Development.

Research Day also hosted several speakers discussing the intersection between social and academic issues and technology. Presentations included Kimon Keramides’ “Queering the Web,” Jennifer Hill’s “Machine Learning and Causal Inference,” Ben Schmidt’s “What are the Books About?,” Anna Harvey’s “Racial Disparities in Policing,” Joanna Klukowska’s “Teaching Math and Computing with Jupyter Hub,” Kyle Brunner’s “Building Handwritten-Text-Recognition (HTR) Models for Syriac Manuscripts,” and a presentation by Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) fellow, Christian Casey.

Ready for 2020

Data Services’ annual Research Day event features the many ways NYU is making an impact on academia and the world through tech in a way that is interactive, informative, and highlights just how much these tools have to offer, whether you are pursuing hard sciences, liberal arts, or humanities. Don’t think this stuff applies to you? You’ll be surprised. Data Services have become a major part of nearly every field of study, and there’s a pretty good chance you could benefit. Want to get in touch with other Violets who are innovating and making the most of NYU’s resources? Mark your November calendar for next year’s event!


  1. GIS: geographic information system
  2. STEM: science, technology, engineering, and math