Vici-prize for Bettina Speckmann

TU/e professor of Algorithms and Visualization prof.dr. Bettina Speckmann has won a Vici grant of 1.5 million euros. She is one of 32 leading researchers to receive this prize from NWO (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research). Speckmann will use the grant to develop algorithms that will reveal patterns in complex data, such as the movement of river beds and the evolution of ideas in old books.

Today’s technology (GPS, CCTV, RFID tags) is making it easier all the time to track the movements of all kinds of objects, ranging from people and animals to river beds and coastlines. But none of this data is of any use if you can’t analyze it and understand it properly. The right algorithms can create order out of chaos, and make relevant patterns visible. A lot of research has therefore been done in recent years on analysis methods for data sets of moving point sources, for example to identify the routes followed by migrating birds.

Speckmann intends to use the Vici grant to advance her research, she explains. “You can’t imagine many moving objects as points. Take a river bed, for example. The way the course of a river changes over time is important for the towns and villages along its route, because of the risk of flooding. If you can compare the course of a river with that of other rivers you can learn from it, and that may help you to make better predictions.” However for a river it’s not the movement of a point that matters, but that of a ‘polyline’ – and hardly any algorithms for that have been developed. But Speckmann intends to change that with the help of three doctoral candidates and a postdoc.

For her research into river beds Speckmann will work together with Maarten Kleinhans (who was featured on 4 February 2013 in the Dutch TV program ‘De Wereld Leert Door’), a geoscientist at Utrecht University whom she knows from De Jonge Akademie, a select group of promising young researchers of which Speckmann has been a member since 2009.

A second research line within the Vici program was also inspired by a contact made in this elite group: Speckmann intends to help philosopher Arianna Betti analyze the development of ideas in old books. “Old philosophy books are increasingly being made digitally accessible. Before the time of telephones or internet, philosophical concepts were only of regional significance. But that gradually shifted as the numbers of international contacts increased. You can analyze this ‘concept drift’ by in effect measuring the distances between specific definitions and tracking them over time. In a pilot study we grouped 7,000 logic books by time and location. That has already led to some new insights in philosophy.”

Bettina Speckmann
Prof.dr. Bettina Speckmann (1972) is professor of Algorithms and Visualization in the Mathematics and Computer Science department at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e). She works at the cutting edge of mathematics, computer science and cartography, focusing on geometrical algorithms, a research area that aims to solve abstract metrological computation problems. As well as that she works actively to communicate the ideas and results in her research field to a broad public audience, and science in general to secondary school students. She is a member of De Jonge Akademie of the KNAW (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences), and received a Vidi grant from the NWO in 2007. In 2011 she received the Netherlands Prize for ICT Research from the KHMW (Royal Holland Society of Sciences and Humanities). 

Vici grant
The Vici grant is aimed at excellent senior researchers who have shown the ability to successfully develop their own innovative research lines, and to act as coach to young researchers. Vici enables senior researchers to build their own research groups, and has a maximum value of 1.5 million euros. Vici (for advanced researchers) is one of the three forms of funding under the NWO’s Innovational Research Incentives Scheme. The other two are Veni (for new PhDs) and Vidi (for experienced postdocs).