Vialab member Menna El-Assady presented ‘NEREx: Named-Entity Relationship Exploration in Multi-Party Conversations’ at EuroVis 2017 in Barcelona.

We are pleased to announce that this month, a Vialab member has presented a new paper.

“NEREx: Named-Entity Relationship Exploration in Multi-Party Conversations” was lead by PhD student Mennatallah El-Assady, and presents a visualization used to explore political debates and multi-party conversations. By revealing different perspectives on multi-party conversations, NEREx gives an entry point for the analysis through high-level overviews and provides mechanisms to form and verify hypotheses through linked detail-views.

NEREx will be published in the Computer Graphics Forum, volume 36, number 3, and presented at Eurovis 2017 in Barcelona.


Funded PhD Position in Explainable Artificial Intelligence

Funded PhD Position in Interfaces for Explainable Artificial Intelligence

When an artificial intelligence system makes a decision or draws a conclusion, the reasons behind that decision are often obscure and difficult to interpret. In order to trust the outcomes of AI systems, they need to be able to present the rationale behind decisions in understandable, transparent ways. We are seeking a highly-motivated PhD candidate for an interdisciplinary research project across the fields of deep learning, visual analytics, and human-computer interaction. Specifically, the research program will be in Explainable Artificial Intelligence with a focus on creating systems to help people interpret the reasoning behind decisions made by deep learning systems. The selected candidate will join an international collaborative project and will be responsible for the design, implementation, and testing of visualization interfaces connecting to explainable machine learning systems designed by partners on the larger project.

This funded position will be established in the Visualization for Information Analysis Lab (vialab) in the Computer Science PhD program at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada under the supervision of Dr. Christopher Collins. The candidate with collaborate with other team members Dr. Graham Taylor at the University of Guelph and Dr. Mohamed Amer at SRI International.

Depending on performance there is a strong likelihood of one or more paid internships at SRI International during the period of study.


  • Masters degree in Computer Science, Software Engineering, Informatics/Data Science or an equivalent university-level degree and relevant experience
  • Strong and demonstrated programming skills
  • Research, work, or significant course experience in human-computer interaction, visual analytics, or interface design
  • Preference for candidates who also have experience/interest in artificial intelligence or machine learning
  • Able to work as an independent and flexible researcher in interdisciplinary teams
  • Strong English writing and speaking skills


Send the following to

  • Detailed CV
  • Motivation letter explaining your interest in and relevant experience for this project
  • Summary of your Master’s thesis
  • Transcripts (unofficial are acceptable at this stage; translations are not required at this stage)

Note: The selected candidate will be invited to apply through the official university application process and offers will be conditional on meeting application criteria for the UOIT CS program.


  • Expressions of interest as soon as possible; formal application process to follow for the invited candidate
  • Start date: September 2017 or negotiable
  • Duration: 4 years


The vialab at UOIT, lead by Dr. Christopher Collins, Canada Research Chair in Linguistic Information Visualization, conducts research in information analysis, visual analytics, text and document analytics, and human-computer interaction. The University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), located in Oshawa, Ontario, advances the discovery and application of knowledge through a technology-enriched learning environment and innovative programs responsive to the needs of students, and the evolving 21st-century workplace. UOIT promotes social engagement, fosters critical thinking, and integrates outcomes-based learning experiences inside and outside the classroom. Oshawa, Ontario is located near the city of Toronto, Canada, where many lab members live.

Summer and Graduate Positions at Vialab

In the summer of 2017 Dr. Christopher Collins at the Visualization for Information Analysis lab (vialab) at UOIT is seeking to hire 1 or more strong undergraduate students for research internships in a broad range of exciting topics. These internships may be eligible for credit under the UOIT co-op program.

Also, I am seeking new graduate students at the M.Sc. level; graduate studies at UOIT are funded for accepted students.

Topics include:

  • Continuing work with the UOIT Registrar’s Office on the creation of a visual analytics dashboard to analyze patterns of student grades related to a variety of factors, to improve student success and university planning.
  • Re-implementing a gesture system created to work with off-screen elements using the Leap Motion device as a polished app for deployment.
  • Developing visualizations to understand the propagation of ideas through citation networks of research papers.
  • Developing mobile applications for literacy education.
  • Investigating alternative authentication systems using subtle hand gestures / hand shakes to identify oneself to a computer system.
  • (M.Sc./Ph.D. only) Developing explanation interfaces for artificial intelligence systems (this opportunity will be linked to guaranteed industrial internships at SRI International)

Each of these positions will require students who are strong programmers. Languages used include Java, C++, Python, and Javascript. All projects will also include an aspect of literature research and report writing. Selected candidates will be expected to attend and participate in lab meetings, research discussions, and assist on other projects as needed from time-to-time. Except in exceptional cases, summer internship applicants should have completed second year in the UOIT CS program. Graduate applicants should have an Honours degree in Computer Science or related subject or be in the final year of studies toward the degree.

Interested candidates should send an email statement of interest, copy of recent unofficial transcript (mycampus print out is ok), and any other relevant materials (cv/portfolio of example projects) to Dr. Collins at before February 28.

vialab contributions at IEEE VIS 2016

This year at the IEEE VIS Conference in Baltimore members of the lab will present papers, posters, and workshop contributions! These contributions also represent collaborations with the University of Calgary, the Univeristy of Wisconsin, Madison, and the University of Waterloo.

Papers: Optimizing Hierarchical Visualizations with the Minimum Description Length Principle and Exploring the Possibilities of Embedding Heterogeneous Data Attributes in Familiar Visualizations.

Poster: The Biasing Effect of Word Length in Font Size Encodings (InfoVis Best Poster Honorable Mention!).

Workshop papers: SpatialVis: Visualization of Spatial Gesture Interaction Logs and Visualization at LIVVIL, Digital Humanities, and the Problem of Instrumentalism at Vis4DH.

Workshop organization: Visualization for Digital Humanities.

Check out our work in Baltimore and online!

Visual Analysis of the US Presidential Debates

We are following the US presidential debates closely using the interactive visualizations created by Mennatallah El-Assady through our collaboration with the data analysis and visualization group in Konstanz, Germany. All results of the linguistic and visual analysis of the presidential debate transcripts are described on the website:
We will be updating the website regularly with new visualization findings for all upcoming debates.


Lexical Episode Plots

Vialab to present two EuroVis papers

We are pleased to announce that this month, Vialab members will be publishing two new papers:

“ConToVi: Multi-Party Conversation Exploration using Topic-Space Views” was lead by PhD student Mennatallah El-Assady, detailing a visual analytics approach to analyze speaker behavior patterns in conversations. It is intended to assist political science scholars in exploring the dynamics of a conversation over time using glyph-based representations.

“PhysioEx: Visual Analysis of Physiological Event Streams” was lead by PhD student Rishikesan Kamaleswaran. PhysioEx is a visual dashboard for multiple physiological data streams. By combining a Temporal Intensity Map with several other coordinated visualizations, this system is intended to assist clinical researchers in the field of neonatal medicine.

ConToVi and PhysioEx will be published in the Computer Graphics Forum, volume 35, number 3, and presented at Eurovis 2016 in Groningen.

Dr. Collins at the Research Excellence Awards Speakers Series

On March 23 Dr. Christopher Collins presented a talk Understanding Culture and Society Through Visual Text Analytics at the UOIT Research Excellence Awards Speakers Series, as a recipient of the 2016 award.  The talk is available to watch online.

Our ability to communicate through language is often considered the hallmark of humanity. Through language data, we leave traces of our individual personalities and our culture online. In this talk Dr. Collins discussed how the vialab investigates language data to provide insights into culture and society. From the secret language of passwords, to the public broadcast of social media, the vialab team has created interactive visualizations for exploring and revealing patterns in language data. How do people feel about my product? What are the main themes in the news today? These are examples of the questions people ask about large scale text data. Through harnessing the power of language data, we have detected rumors on Twitter, discovered car parts contributing to accidents, and analyzed the written history of the court system. In addition to an overview of our research projects, this talk presented some of the technologies and techniques we use to achieve these results and discussed the open challenges and opportunities for the future of linguistic data as a lens on culture and society.

The introduction of Dr. Collins as read by Vice President Research, Innovation, and International Dr. Michael Owen, appears below:

Dr. Christopher Collins is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Science and holds a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Linguistic Information Visualization. His cutting edge research program combines information visualization and human-computer interaction with natural language processing to address the challenges of linguistic information management and the problems with information overload. Using a trans-disciplinary approach crossing computer graphics, design, and linguistics, Dr. Collins provides new analytic tools to data-intensive fields as diverse as legal studies and bioinformatics. His designs integrate gesture and touch interaction to enable analytic processes that are both intuitive and powerful.

Dr. Collins’ visualization designs are informed by deep investigation into real-world linguistic data problems. These new techniques are widely cited and highly impactful, as demonstrated by his work having more than one thousand citations and the pick up of his research by the scientific and popular media. An example of the breadth of Dr. Collins’ contributions can be seen in his recent investigation of the “secret language of passwords”. His team published two papers which deconstruct millions of real passwords to reveal the semantic patterns encoded within them. A password guessing algorithm based on their findings surpassed the best available cracking techniques on many measures. The research has garnered media attention including a major article by Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Ian Urbina at the New York Times Magazine.

Dr. Collins’ creativity in research and scholarship is exemplified through his innovative application of a variety of methodologies, including grounding ethnographic studies of how people work with language data as well as qualitative and quantitative evaluations of resulting visualization designs. In his research, he relies on information visualization, natural language processing, and the exciting interactive power of natural user interfaces and large multi-touch displays. Dr. Collins is the only researcher in Canada with expertise in all three of these areas.

Dr. Collins’ research has attracted significant support from national granting agencies and industry partners. In his five years as a professor at UOIT, he has received $1.4 million in direct research funding as the sole investigator and additional support through his participation on joint projects and National Centres of Excellence. Dr. Collins’ research promises to contribute innovations that will enhance our ability to leverage the tsunami of big data to drive positive change in business, policy-making, and education. His current NSERC Discovery Grant introduces mixed-initiative visual text analytics, whereby computer systems provide just-in-time and contextually appropriate guidance to analysts.  This proposed direction was considered so highly that his application was awarded a rare “Discovery Accelerator Supplement”, an additional grant recognizing outstanding research potential.  Collins leads the Visualization for Information Analysis lab in the Faculty of Science, where he supervises undergraduate and graduate students focusing on information visualization, with special attention on text and document analysis. The VIA lab maintains collaborations with academic colleagues at UOIT and beyond, as well as industrial collaborations. Positions in the VIA lab are highly sought after and he receives dozens of requests from prospective students each year. It is clear that our students are as grateful to have Dr. Collins at UOIT as we are.

Christopher Collins awarded UOIT Research Excellence Award

Dr. Collins was awarded the UOIT Research Excellence Award in the Early Career Researcher category on November 10. The citation read at the ceremony mentioned the research papers, collaborations, funding, and citations by Dr. Collins and his team over the past 6 years. Dr. Collins thanked his collaborators and students for their strong work and contributions to the research – without the full team, the research would not be possible.  A full story and descriptions of the other award recipients, including Computer Science technician Richard Drake, who provides research support to vialab, is found on the UOIT News site.

Dr. Collins to speak at ArtSci Salon: Data Imaginaries

Christopher Collins will be joining Graham Wakefield (Digital Media, York University) and Haru Ji (Sogang University) to discuss his visualization research in a unique art meets science collaborative event on November 19.

Some details are below and also on the ArtSci Salon website.

ArtSci Salon: Data Imaginaries

Graham Wakefield, Digital Media, York University
Haru Ji, Sogang University


Christopher Collins, University of Ontario Institute of Technology

Thursday, November 19, 2015, 6:00-8:00 pm
Rm 230, The Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences,
222 College Street,Toronto



We often think of data as quantitative variables or as discrete pieces of information that bear little or no cultural significance in their assumed “raw” state. With the increasing digitalization of every aspect of today’s life, they have become crucial not only in understanding trends, behaviours, phenomena etc.., but also in initiating reflections on their very nature. A lot has been written about the politics and ethics involved in collecting data, and the ways in which data are endlessly and invisibly seized thanks to algorithms and technological devices. Conversely, little attention has been given to the creative processes employed, the artistry that goes into making them meaningful and, often, beautiful, or the conceptual reflections that data collection as an activity evokes. During this ArtSci Salon, we hope to instigate this latter aspect by presenting diverse, though ultimately converging perspectives and practices of artists Graham Wakefield and Haru Ji, and computer scientist Christopher Collins.


Artificial Nature is the artistic partnership of Haru Ji and Graham Wakefield ( exploring the subject of life and complex systems in art through artificial natures: a form of computational generative art creating artificial life ecosystems as immersive environments. Rather than representing nature as it appears, we aim to create an environment in the manner that nature works. It is an interdisciplinary art form linking the generative open-endedness of both biology and computation within aesthetic experience. Since 2008, A.N. have had over thirty-five exhibits across nine countries,including festivals such as SIGGRAPH (Yokohama), Microwave (Hong Kong), Digital Art Festival (Taipei), conferences such as ISEA (Singapore), and EvoWorkshops (Tubingen), and venues including La Gaite Lyrique (Paris), CAFA (Beijing) and City Hall (Seoul). It was awarded honorable mention in the international VIDA competition, 2014.

Christopher Collins ( is the Canada Research Chair in Linguistic Information Visualization and an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT).  His research focus is interdisciplinary, combining information visualization and human-computer interaction with natural language processing to address the challenges of information management and the problems of information overload.  His work has been published in many venues including IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, and has been featured in popular media such as the Toronto Star and the New York Times Magazine.  Dr. Collins received his PhD in Computer Science from the University of Toronto.

Data Stories Podcast with Christopher Collins

The latest episode of Data Stories features Christopher Collins with hosts Enrico Bertini and Moritz Stefaner. The episode, titled Text Visualization: Past, Present, and Future covers tools for text processing, discussion of some of the works from this lab, some favourites from the research community, and some ideas of future challenges in this area.

The Data Stories folks have transcribed the episode and challenged the audience to visualize it!  You can get the transcription as a document or view it in an enriched version made by Chris Kim from vialab.

Vialab visiting researcher Menna El-Assady has already created some views of the transcript using her lexical episodes visualization.

A segment of a lexical episodes visualization of Data Stories episode #62, but Menna El-Assady.

A segment of a lexical episodes visualization of Data Stories episode #62, but Menna El-Assady.

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