Nick Holliman is Professor of Visualization in the School of Computing at Newcastle University. At Newcastle he is a member of the Digital Institute and is also part of the team working to establish the new National Innovation Centre for Data. He is a graduate in Computing with Electronics from the Departments of Computer Science and Applied Physics at Durham University, his PhD from Leeds University investigated novel parallel computing architectures for high performance graphics and was sponsored by IBM UK.
He first worked at startup Lightwork Design Ltd where he researched and developed the first commercial implementation of the radiosity lighting simulation method. Moving to Sharp Laboratories of Europe in Oxford as Principal Researcher he led a team researching software methods for auto-stereoscopic (glasses-free) 3D displays including graphics algorithms and real time head detection and eye tracking. Sharp commercialised these results in laptops, desktops and mobile phones, the most commercially successful outcome being Nintendo’s 3DS game system.
Returning to the academy in 2001 he formed and led the Innovative Computing research group at Durham University, subsequently moving to build the Interactive Media group at York University where he was founding programme director for the BSc in Interactive Media. Both continue as successful groups today. In 2015 he moved to Newcastle University to join the Digital Institute and focus on the research challenges of visualisation for big data, in 2018 he became head of the Scalable Research Group in the School of Computing. His research has always involved multi-disciplinary or multi-perspective collaborations.
His research aims to find new ways to create data visualisations that directly address challenges in the human understanding of big data and AI. Starting off in electronic form in a computer, a display device converts information optically to light, this electromagnetic information is detected by the eye and the information finally exists as electro-chemical nerve impulses in the brain. How should we optimise this process so that we can quickly and accurately understand new ideas, and with these ideas take decisions about the world?
His recent research at Newcastle has focused on exploiting the power of cloud super-computing to create more effective visualisations of urban analytics data. Cloud super-computing allows three orders of magnitude more computing power to be applied to data visualisation problems than would be possible on even the most powerful desktop computer. This is allowing the exploration of visual approaches to representing data that have not been see before, one example is the TeraScope project that is producing a visualisation from city scale to room scale in a single image of one trillion pixels.
As a Turing Fellow he is planning to follow two directions of research: First to address the challenge of visualising uncertainty, how might we represent values and our confidence in values in immediately understandable ways. Second to address the challenge of how to automate visualisation, big data is too big for a human designer to confidently represent visually, how can we automate this process using stochastic optimisation techniques and perhaps also machine learning.
Achievements and awards
As well as patents and academic papers his research outputs have included a number of award winning short stereoscopic 3D films on the role of dark matter in the creation of the universe in collaboration with Professor Carlos Frenk and the Institute for Computational Cosmology at Durham University. He is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery, The IEEE Computer Society, the Royal Statistical Society and the Society for Imaging Science and Technology.