Carpendale, Dr. Sheelagh

2011 Finalist: Outstanding Leadership In Alberta Technology

Visualization Helps Put Alberta On The World Computer-Human Interaction Map

Dr. Sheelagh Carpendale is an internationally renowned researcher in information visualization and multi-touch interaction. Her work draws upon her combined backgrounds in fine arts and computer science, benefiting from the rich cross-fertilization of ideas between these two fields. Her research and innovations are based on observing everyday practices to improve understanding of how people interact with information and new technologies.

Making Information Accessible

“About 10 years ago, when I came to Calgary and looking for a research agenda, I pondered about how we are more and more an information society. We are all attracted to information, yet we suffer from information overload,” says Dr. Carpendale, professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Calgary. “I saw visualization as a way of working with information that makes it more accessible to all people — from scientists and information analysts, to decision makers and the general public.”

From that preliminary thinking Dr. Carpendale developed the idea of an interactive table to accommodate small groups working digitally. Her research combines fundamental advances in human-computer interaction with innovative new interaction techniques. These approaches embed people’s work and social practices in technology to aid information work and promote collaboration.

About five years ago, Dr. Carpendale brought her pioneering work on interaction models for tabletop displays to Calgary’s SMART Technologies’ attention. SMART saw potential in tabletop technologies for educational, entertainment and business applications.

“By getting SMART in on this work, we changed the industry,” Dr. Carpendale says. Her tabletop interaction research triggered SMART’s early start in this direction, which has contributed to their current position as the leader in the interactive tabletop market.

Putting Alberta on the Map

Dr. Carpendale’s research strengths and leadership have led U.S. researchers to suggest Alberta as the place to help the establishment of nation-wide interactive visualization research in Canada. She also attracts outstanding international graduate students who have been recruited by such places as MIT, Stanford and Harvard University for fellowships and post-doctoral studies.

“In the 10 years I’ve been a professor, I’ve graduated seven PhD students. Five are professors and two hold research chairs and this is when faculty jobs were theoretically nonexistent,” Dr. Carpendale says. “Working with these bright young people — to see the computer science field through their eyes and to help them become known for their unique focus on interactive technology and visualization — is a privilege.” She was nominated by her students for the top supervisory award at the U of C — and won it.

Interdisciplinary Strengths

Dr. Carpendale says she believes she does better science because of her combined arts and computer science background and she wants to encourage learners from different backgrounds to explore interdisciplinary study. She leads the team that has developed a pilot project at the U of C that allows graduate students in various disciplines to pursue studies in computational media design.

“Visualization is not just computing science. It involves medicine, physics, biology and engineering,” Dr. Carpendale explains. “We’re exploring a whole new strategic research direction to see if we can strengthen the field by forging a university level direction that encompasses this multidisciplinary approach.”

Dr. Carpendale’s research is a significant part of the international revitalization of tabletop research, helping put Alberta on the map as a human-computer interaction research destination.