Personalities Behind the Project

Benjamin Weyers on the importance of visualisation and human-computer interaction

Interview by Arantxa Cedillo, write-up by Colin McKinnon

Benjamin Weyers © The Human Brain Project 2016 / Arantxa Cedillo

Visualisation is one of the key areas of research in the HBP — it’s a vital part of translating mountains of data about the various complex functions, connections and intereactions in the brain so that they can be better understood. The HBP Subproject on High Performance Analytics and Computing is the main support for this, providing the computing power and visualisation software and tools that can be used by the specialist areas in the other HBP Subprojects.

Dr.-Ing. Benjamin Weyers of RWTH Aachen University in Germany is one of the people involved in this research. He works in the areas of virtual reality and immersive visualisation, with a particular focus on human-computer interaction and interfaces. We caught up with him in Budapest to ask him about how his research fits into the HBP, opportunities for collaboration, and his experiences as a young researcher.

As he explained, the main focus for his team is on creating visualisation software and methods to try to “improve the interactions between people and machines, to make the interactions simpler and better”. Many of the principles involved can also have applications outside the HBP, including fields other than science. Increasingly, companies and institutions are facing the problem of how to handle vast amounts of data effectively. Any type of industry or business facing this issue could therefore benefit from the development of new ways to view and explore the data in an immersive environment.

Benjamin notes that awareness of the right tools is a crucial part of the process. As he says, “If you want to bring tools to people, you need to show them that they are there”. The next step in the process is education, i.e. showing them how to use the tools to their advantage. The initial HBP experience will help to shape this, particularly once other scientific communities begin to see how they can be applied to their specific needs.

One of Benjamin’s principal focus points is on human-computer interaction. However, understanding how the computer systems work is only half the battle — one also has to understand how the computer users themselves work and what kind of experience they would like to have. Benjamin has been collaborating with psychologists to try to understand this, which also gives him a different perspective on his own research. “Collaboration over boundaries is really important”, he notes.

Young researchers can face some issues that they should be prepared for when embarking on a career in science. Besides the challenge of finding the balance between the interesting science and the potential meaningful impact on the community, young researchers also need to think about building up and interacting with their own and other scientific communities. Sometimes this is not as simple as it sounds, and young scientists can encounter all sorts of academic political in-fighting and hidden agendas. Benjamin’s advice here is to simply not give up, and to “keep going, keep trying”. Good advice, we think, not only for young scientists, but for everyone.