MSc Topics

Our research

Scientific activities in the GIVA group are centered around three research threads:

  1. spatio-temporal analytics (i.e., moving object representations, spatialization, human navigation, socio-demographic applications, health applications, etc.),
  2. interface design of large and small interactive displays (i.e., mobile cartography and location-based services, 3D stereoscopic wall displays, dynamic and interactive exploratory visualization tools, etc.), and
  3. fundamental empirical evaluations of tools and/or displays based on theoretical underpinnings from geography, psychology and cognitive science (i.e., eye tracking, emotion sensing, and related studies, and other types of empirical studies with participants).

Our methodological toolset draws from an interdisciplinary range of academic fields, including cartographic design and geographic information visualization, human behavior sensing, spatial analysis and spatial statistics, and computational techniques such as, space-time data mining, etc..

Choosing a topic

There a many ways to find a worthwhile MSc research topic. The MSc thesis is primarily a scientific project, driven by scientific (basic or applied) research questions. What themes in your studies did you find fascinating, interesting, or simply fun? What skills do you already have, and what skills would you wish you had? What kind of career are you interested in pursuing after you graduate? Do you like to work with people, or with data, or do you like to design, develop and evaluate a graphic display? What are your minor subjects? Are you already working with another research group/employer and have already a particular topic in mind? Come talk to us!

List of ongoing and past GIVA MSc projects

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Empirical Evaluation Emphasis

Visual complexity of maps

Short description: What makes a map complex? There is a body of knowledge on the subject; however, there is no established definition or a universal measure for measuring visual complexity of a map.

After reviewing and critically examining existing approaches to define and measure visual complexity in maps as well as other graphic displays, imagery and 3D visualizations, you will empirically assess how the graphic characteristics of a visual display affect people’s perception of visual complexity in geographic information displays.

Requirements: You are interested in visualization design and user studies, and not afraid to learn and use statistical methods for data analysis.

Language: Thesis can be written in German or in English.

Supervisor(s): Tumasch Reichenbacher, Sara I. Fabrikant

Additional Remarks: You will have access to a state-of-the-art eye movement laboratory.

Realism and abstraction in 3D visualization

Short description: Interactive viewers of photorealistic images - graphic renderings simulating the reality with very high fidelity - have become popular ways to communicate spatial information, especially since 3D viewers such as Google Earth have made access to and navigation in spatial data so easy and fun. However, more realistic-looking spatial renderings do not necessarily mean the underlying data are closer to reality, or more accurate and precise.

Your task is to empirically assess how the graphic representation characteristics (i.e., abstract, non-photorealistic, photo-realistic, etc.) of large-screen 3D views (on a 3-wall stereoscopic display system) might affect people’s beliefs about the quality of the data displayed.

Requirements: You are interested in geovisualization and empirical work with human test participants, and not afraid to learn and use statistical methods for data analysis.

Language: Thesis can be written in German or in English.

Supervisors: Sara I. Fabrikant, Tumasch Reichenbacher

Additional Remarks: You will have access to a state-of-the-art 3D display system (e.g., CAVE).

Perceptual salience and thematic relevance in 2D map displays

Short description: Cartographers employ a set of visual variables (e.g., size, color hue, color value, orientation, etc.) for 2D, static maps to systematically match levels of thematic relevant information to a perceptual hierarchy based on figure ground relationships (Bertin, 1967/83). Very few of these proposed variables have actually been empirically tested.

Your task is to systematically evaluate the relationship of thematic relevance and perceptual salience in maps with the use of the so-called flicker paradigm (Rensink et al. 1997) to measure which parts and properties of features are attended in maps (= most easily seen to change) under various conditions.

The central contribution is systematically assessing cartographic design principles with empirical evidence.

Requirements: You are interested in geovisualization and empirical work with human test participants, and not afraid to learn and use statistical methods for data analysis. Good sense of design, and the willingness to learn SVG and or another multimedia authoring tool for testing is an asset.

Language: Thesis can be written in German or in English.

Supervisors: Tumasch Reichenbacher, Sara I. Fabrikant

Additional Remarks: The use of a state-of-the-art eye tracker is an option.

Evaluation of map animations

Short description: How do design principles for dynamic displays (e.g., visual variables, dynamic variables, interactivity levels, etc.) affect people’s ability to extract knowledge in exploratory data analysis tasks?

Your task is to systematically compare and evaluate interactive and non-interactive map animations with human test participants using the eye movement data collection method.

Requirements: You are interested in geovisualization and empirical work with human test participants, and not afraid to learn and use statistical methods for data analysis. Good sense of design, and the willingness to learn SVG and or another multimedia authoring tool for testing is an asset.

Language: Thesis can be written in German or in English.

Supervisors: Sara I. Fabrikant, Tumasch Reichenbacher

Additional Remarks: You will have access to a state-of-the-art eye tracker system.

Evaluation of uncertainty in dynamic displays

Short description: How do design principles for dynamic displays (e.g., visual variables, dynamic variables, interactivity levels, etc.) affect people’s ability to solve a task with a dynamic display that contains uncertainty information?

Your task is to systematically evaluate interactive and non-interactive map animations containing various types of uncertainty information with human test participants.

Requirements: You are interested in geovisualization and empirical work with human test participants, and not afraid to learn and use statistical methods for data analysis. Good sense of design, and the willingness to learn SVG and or another multimedia authoring tool for testing is an asset.

Language: Thesis can be written in German or in English.

Supervisors: Sara I. Fabrikant, Tumasch Reichenbacher

Additional Remarks: You will have access to a state-of-the-art eye tracker system.

Design and evaluation of spatializations within a social network context

Short description: : A spatialization is a transformation of high-dimensional (non-geographic) data into lower-dimensional spatial representations to facilitate exploratory knowledge discovery from very large databases. Social networks have become increasingly important in an information rich society to share knowledge.

Your task is to design, develop and systematically evaluate spatializations of social network data.

Requirements: You are interested in (geo)visualization, enjoy programming, and are not afraid to learn and use exploratory statistical methods for data mining.

Language: Thesis can be written in German or in English.

Supervisors: Sara I. Fabrikant

Design and evaluation of interactive map displays within a digital data journalism context

Short description: The news media (e.g., Tagesanzeiger, NZZ, SRF, etc.) increasingly use data visualization not only to inform about political, economic, and social phenomena, but also to simulate possible developments and outcomes, to reframe thinking, and to also change people’s behaviors. What is the role of sound cartographic design in visual story telling in the news media? How do cartographic design principles work for maps often read on the go, and on small mobile displays?

Your task is to design and systematically evaluate story telling map displays accompanying news articles, considering reader background of that media and the mobile use context.

Requirements: You are interested in geovisualization and empirical work with human test participants, and not afraid to learn and use statistical methods for data analysis. Good sense of design, and the willingness to learn SVG and or another multimedia authoring tool for testing is an asset.

Language: Thesis can be written in German or in English.

Supervisors: Sara I. Fabrikant, Tumasch Reichenbacher

Chromastereopsis and depth perception

Short description: Perceptually, some colors retreat (i.e., appear far away from the viewer) while some advance (i.e., appear close to the viewer), thus causing an illusion of depth. This phenomenon is known as chromastereopsis.

Your task is to investigate the use of chromastereopsis in the design of geovisualization displays first through a review of the literature, and second, through a user study in which you compare the use of chromastereopsis to a monoscopic and a stereoscopic alternative to establish how much it contributes to the perception of 3D spatial relationships.

Requirements: You have an interest in learning how to design and run empirical evaluations on 3D display systems, and are not afraid to run (basic) statistical analyses.

Language: This thesis is offered in English.

Supervisors: Sara I. Fabrikant, Tumasch Reichenbacher

Additional Remarks: You will have access to a state-of-the-art virtual reality 3D display system as well as eye tracking equipment.

Evaluation of interactive map projections

Short description: Map projections depict the curved 2D surface of the Earth on a 2D planar map display. How do people perceive and understand the world represented through map projections? For example, how might the choice of the map projection center, the relationship of shown land vs. water surface, shape distortions, or the visual variables employed to display the information influence the perception and understanding of the depicted World regions?

Your task will be to design a world map using a state-of-the-art static and interactive map projection software (e.g., worldmapgenerator.com and/or the GeoCart) and empirically assess your solutions with test users.

Requirements: You have an interest in map design and empirical work with test participants. An interest in map projections is an asset.

Language: Thesis can be written in German or in English.

Supervisors: Sara I. Fabrikant and Julia Mia Stirnemann (University of Bern and developer of Worldmapgenerator)

Additional Remarks: You will have access to a state-of-the-art eye tracker system and the “smartband” emotion sensor system.

Design and evaluation of uncertainty depictions in map displays

Short description: Uncertainty in geographic datasets are inevitable. How do we communicate data uncertainties in geographic information displays and how does the visualization of uncertainty in displays impact human decision making with maps?

Your task is to design and empirically assess cartographically sound map displays to study how the communication of uncertainty might affect people’s spatio- temporal inference and decision making when using maps.

Requirements: You are interested in map design and empirical work with test participants, and not afraid to learn and use statistical methods for data analysis.

Language: Thesis can be written in German or in English.

Supervisors: Sara I. Fabrikant, Tumasch Reichenbacher

Additional Remarks: You will have access to a state-of-the-art eye tracker system and the “smartband” emotion sensor system.

Design and evaluation of cartographic design principles in brain maps

Short description: fMRI brain scans visualize neural activity in the brain. These maps are not created by visualization experts, and generally lack empirically sound visualization principles.

Your task is to design brain maps based on empirically verified cartographic design principles, and assess these in comparison with cartographic maps in a user study with fMRI and geovisualization experts.

Requirements: You are interested in map design and empirical work with test participants, and not afraid to learn and use statistical methods for data analysis.

Language: Thesis can be written in German or in English.

Supervisors: Sara I. Fabrikant, Markus Christen (UZH Center for Ethics)

Additional Remarks: You will have access to a state-of-the-art eye tracker system and the “smartband” emotion sensor system.

Emotive content of visual scenes

Short description: What makes a visual scene attractive or aesthetically pleasing? There have been quite a few user studies in the lab assessing the attractiveness of landscape images and scenes, typically using photographs, coupled with paper- and-pencil questionnaires. However, little is known on people’s psycho- physiological reactions when looking at environmental scenes and how this might relate to landscape attractiveness ratings.

Your task is to design and conduct a user study in the field using a mobile eye tracker coupled with an emotion sensor system to assess the attractiveness of landscape scenery.

Requirements: You are interested in map design and empirical work with test participants, and not afraid to learn and use statistical methods for data analysis.

Language: Thesis can be written in German or in English.

Supervisors: Sara I. Fabrikant, Tumasch Reichenbacher

Additional Remarks: You will have access to a state-of-the-art eye tracker system and the “smartband” emotion sensor system.

What is the role of emotion in mobile map design and use?

Short description: There is a large body of empirical research on how people navigate with maps, but little is known about people’s psycho-physiological states when using mobile map displays for decision making during navigation, and especially when in emotionally charged decision making situations, including dilemmatic decisions, uncertainty, stress, etc..

Your task is to design and conduct a user study in the field or in the VR lab using psycho-physiological sensing devices to assess how people make decisions with mobile maps during emotionally charged navigation tasks.

Requirements: You are interested in map design and empirical work with test participants, and not afraid to learn and use statistical methods for data analysis.

Language: Thesis can be written in German or in English.

Supervisors: Tumasch Reichenbacher, Sara I. Fabrikant

Additional Remarks: You will have access to a state-of-the-art eye tracker system and the “smartband” emotion sensor system.

Evaluation of augmented reality applications

Short description: Various geospatial augmented reality (AR) applications on smart phones and tablets have become popular. While the technology is moving fast, user studies that assess the usability, user experience, and the usefulness of AR are rare. Your task is to evaluate an existing AR application of your choice, or implement your own version, used for navigation. 

Requirements: You have an interest in learning how to design and run empirical evaluations, and are not afraid to run some basic statistical analyses.

Language: Thesis can be written in German or in English.

Supervisors: Sara I. Fabrikant, Tumasch Reichenbacher

Additional Remarks: You will have access to a state-of-the-art virtual reality 3D display system as well as eye tracking equipment in which an AR use-case can be simulated.

Analysis Emphasis

Geovisual analytics and spatialization in the humanities

Short description: The amount of implicit spatial and temporal information in digital (online) databases (e.g., Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, Google Books) is increasing exponentially. An interdisciplinary research community is developing approaches to extract spatial and temporal information (e.g., Geographic Information Retrieval) from such databases, and thus make it explicit by also presenting it (visually) to an information seeker. Amongst the available online databases, digital (text) archives are especially relevant for the Humanities, as the spatio-temporal dimension also matter in most Humanities disciplines (e.g., linguistics, history, anthropology, etc.). However, such databases are largely untapped for spatio-temporal analyses.

Your task is to develop geovisual analytics approaches to visually explore a digital (text) archive. Possible approaches might include spatialized displays (i.e., semantic networks, self-organizing maps, etc.). You will illustrate solutions by means of a proof-of-concept graphical user interface, and evaluate with users how this might support the generation of new research hypotheses, and/or lead to novel insights about spatio-temporal data and their relationships in the explored archive.

Requirements: You are interested in applying geovisual analytics in an interdisciplinary context, have (or are willing to get) basic programming skills, and enjoy exploring (text) data by applying geovisualization and spatio-temporal analysis techniques.

Language: Thesis can be written in German or in English.

Supervisors: Sara Fabrikant

Spatio-temporal analysis of the Spanish Flu pandemic

Short description: The 1918 influenza pandemic (January 1918 – December 1920) was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic. With 6.2 per 1,000 flu deaths in the total population, Switzerland was one of the European countries more severely affected by the pandemic. 

Historical death records in the canton of Bern are combined with various historical data from multiple sources in a geographic information system.

Your task is to do an exploratory spatial data analysis and a multivariate space-time analysis to investigate the dissemination of the historical disease.

Requirements: You are interested in learning more about infectious diseases, geographic information visualization, and/or spatial modelling approaches.

Language: Thesis can be written in German or in English.

Supervisors: Caspar Staub, Oliver Gruebner

Visualization of space-time data at high resolution

Short description: Dynamic geographic phenomena can be generally conceptualized and represented as spatio-temporal patterns (e.g., trajectories of people or animals, flows of chemicals, or movements of eyes over maps), space- time processes (climate change, urban growth, human spatial cognition) or spatio- temporal events (e.g., earthquakes, winter Olympics, or human eyes fixating on a perceptually salient object in a scene). Your task is to develop visual analytics methods and data exploration tools for the effective depiction and analysis of time- referenced spatial data sets at high resolution.

Requirements: You are interested in geovisualization, have a good sense of design, and enjoy programming.

Language: Thesis can be written in German or in English.

Supervisors: Tumasch Reichenbacher, Sara I. Fabrikant

Additional Remarks: Knowledge of JAVA and the Eclipse IDE are an asset.

Spatio-temporal analysis of emotions in geo-referenced social media data

Short description: Emotional Momentary Assessment (EMA) and digital phenotyping allows us to investigate mental health and well-being in situ, that is, outside a laboratory setting. It is commonly assumed that through these approaches, the emotional responses are more realistically captured because they are recorded as they are experienced moment by moment rather than at a later stage like in a retrospective survey.

Geo-referenced and archived data from Twitter users have been obtained over the time frame of one year. These data have been analysed with a machine learning approach ‘Extracting the Meaning of Terse Information in a Geo-Visualisation of Emotion’ (EMOTIVE) to identify specific emotions in single tweets over this time frame. The data can be spatially integrated with environmental and socio-demographic data from other sources in a geographic information system to investigate socio-ecological factors that are associated with emotional responses in that population. 

Your task is to do a exploratory spatial data analysis and/or a multivariable space-time analysis to investigate the dissemination of emotions over space and time.

Requirements: You are interested in the study of mental health, geographic information visualisation, big data, and/or spatial modelling approaches.

Language: Thesis can be written in German or in English.

Supervisors: Oliver Gruebner

Analysis of mapping app use on smart devices

Short description: When and how do people use mapping apps on their smart devices? Can we identify human traits and cognitive styles based on a users interaction data withmap apps on their digital smart phone?

Your task is to design and execute an empirical study to investigate map app interaction data on mobile phones in a crowd sourced context.

Requirements: You are interested in empirical work with test participants, and not afraid to learn and use statistical methods for data analysis. Programming is an asset.

Language: Thesis can be written in German or in English.

Supervisors: Sara I. Fabrikant, Dr. Arko Gosh (UZH Institute of Neuroinformatics)

Additional Remarks: You will have access to a state-of-the-art mobile eye tracker system and the “smartband” emotion sensor system.

Design Emphasis

Cultural influences on cartographic styles

This is an internationally-advised MSc project, in collaboration with the COGIT Laboratory at the French National Geographical Institute (IGN), France.

Short description: Topographic maps are produced globally by national mapping agencies. While there is a lot in common between topographic maps produced in different countries, in terms of cartographic styles a real diversity exists.

Your task is to identify and characterize national (e.g., Swiss vs. French) and/or regional (e.g., North European vs. South East Asian) cartographic styles in topographic maps. Are people able to associate the topographic maps of their own country to a specific cartographic style? Are cartographic styles generally recognizable by map users? What are the emotive responses that cartographic styles evoke (i.e., beauty, efficiency, simplicity, etc.)? You are asked to design a user study to analyze how habits, culture, and cartographic knowledge might impact the recognition of cartographic styles, and how cartographic styles might impact the visual impression of a map.

Requirements: You are interested in map design, fine arts, and empirical work with test participants, and not afraid to learn and use statistical methods for data analysis.

Language: Thesis can be written in French or in English.

Supervisor(s): Sara Fabrikant and Sidonie Christophe (COGIT Lab, IGN France)

Additional Remarks: You will have access to a state-of-the-art eye movement laboratory.

Adaptation of mobile map displays

Short description: Smartphones offer various contextual cues for adapting map displays to the mobile usage context. You will explore the use of this sensor data and other sources for adapting the map display accordingly. Your task is to implement a prototype app with map adaptation capability and to test the implementation in an empirical study with users. 

Requirements: Programming skills, an interest in map based application development, and willingness to learn how to conduct a user study.

Language: Thesis can be written in German or in English.

Supervisors: Tumasch Reichenbacher 

Additional Remarks: The use of a state-of-the-art mobile eye tracker is an option. An interest in visualization design and user studies is an asset.

3D realism and the internal (mental) rotation of 3D objects

Short description: A common test for measuring a person’s visuo-spatial ability is Shepard and Metzler’s (1971) mental rotation task (MRT) of 3D objects depicted in 2D images. Your task is to explore how people’s performance on the MRT might be influenced by the visual appearance of the 3D object by 3D computer graphics methods, including 3D stereo-viewing.

Requirements: You have an interest in 3D graphics and design, including empirical work with test participants.

Language: Thesis can be written in German or in English.

Supervisors: Sara I. Fabrikant, Tumasch Reichenbacher

Additional Remarks: A state-of-the-art stereoscopic display (CAVE) is available.

Evaluation of emotion and affect in visualization

Short description: What are the effects harmony and beauty in cartographic design? How do emotions and affect influence spatio-temporal decision making with map displays? Real-time monitoring devices of body responses are now providing data on people’s emotive states in everyday life contexts, including when looking at visual displays. Your task is to explore the utility of collected electro-dermal, cardiovascular, and skin temperature data to uncover people’s emotional responses when looking at different types of cartographic displays and making spatio-temporal decisions under various task contexts.

Requirements: You are interested in geographic information visualization, aesthetics, and design. The willingness to work empirically is an asset.

Language: Thesis can be written in German or in English.

Supervisors: Sara I. Fabrikant in collaboration with Sidonie Christophe (COGIT Lab, IGN France))

Additional Remarks: You will have access to a state-of-the-art eye tracker system and a “smart band” to record people’s body signals.