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SFU Scientist Key Player in U.S. Anti-terrorism Project

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 John Dill (away until Mar. 28, but reachable through media/pr) 604.268.7555;
 Brian Fisher, 604. 268. 7554;
 Stuart Colcleugh, Media & PR 604.291.3035;

March 23, 2006
A Simon Fraser University scientist is a key player in a major US government research project focused on preventing terrorism by means of a powerful and relatively new scientific field known as visual analytics.

Visual analytics helps analysts process enormous quantities of words, numbers, photographs, video, audio and other data from many unrelated sources and visually represents the information for human evaluation using a variety of computerized analytical processes.

SFU engineering science professor John Dill was one of only two Canadians on the select panel that conceived the research and development agenda for the National Visualization and Analytics Center (NVAC), which the US department of homeland security (DHS) created in 2004 at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash.

“This is going to be a large effort,” says Dill, a faculty member at SFU Surrey’s school of interactive arts and technology (SIAT). “The initial DHS funding is to look at building better tools for intelligence analysis, emergency operation centres and first responders of all kinds. But this will also have applications outside of anti-terrorism, certainly in dealing with medical issues like epidemiology.”

NVAC’s R&D agenda is outlined in Illuminating the Path, a book Dill contributed to, which can be downloaded at Brian Fisher, an associate professor of cognitive science at SIAT, also played a significant role in writing the book and contributing to the panel’s efforts.

Although visual analytics has multiple uses, the NVAC website says, “its use in biology and national security is an integral part of our nation’s overall efforts to protect against terrorism and reduce our vulnerability to terrorist attacks.”

The Canadian government is not involved in the project, Dill says. But NVAC director Jim Thomas was recently in Ottawa where he spoke with Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies (CCISS) director Martin Rudner and others about the possibility of establishing a Canadian visual analytics centre.