VT professor analyzes data by turning it into sound

Many researchers visualize data to uncover patterns or correlations, but a Virginia Tech professor has created a new platform for data analysis: He turns it into sound.

Ivica Ico Bukvic, associate professor of creative technologies in music in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, has pioneered an immersive approach called data sonification that allows for the exploration of data by turning it into sound. Data sonification is a relatively unexplored area of research, yet it provides a unique perspective for exploring data. The human auditory system has a superior ability to recognize temporal changes and patterns, making sonification a powerful tool for studying complex systems.

Bukvic partners with Virginia Tech faculty from electrical and computer engineering; mechanical engineering; human nutrition, food, and exercise; and plant and environmental science to investigate how immersive sound can be used to develop a better understanding of complex systems.

“Identifying new time and space correlations between variables often leads to breakthroughs in the physical sciences,” explained Bukvic, who also serves as the director of the Creativity and Innovation transdisciplinary community. “It makes sense that we would want to go beyond two-dimensional graphical models of information and make new discoveries using senses other than our eyes. As our understanding of sonification matures, one of the goals is to eventually combine sonification with other approaches to experiencing data (e.g. visualization) and thereby increase the human capacity to simultaneously monitor and process data.”

Bukvic and his collaborators are using data sonification to study the effects of solar radiation on the Earth’s atmosphere,to  monitor cell movement and to develop new agriculture techniques that will help scientists easily and immediately observe plant response. This will allow for new agricultural practices that improve plant health and production.