Geology PhD Student Recognized For Understanding How People Learn from Visualizations

Sheldon Turner

Sheldon Turner's research involves understanding how people use visualizations to understand complex science issues.

The Geological Society of America has recognized MSU doctoral student Sheldon Turner with an Outstanding Mention Award – one of 20 awards presented by the GSA during their annual conference in Minneapolis.

Turner was recognized for his research in understanding how to best communicate complex science issues through images and visualizations.

“A common way to communicate complex systems is through visualizations, so understanding how people best learn from images is important for educating non-scientists on environmental issues,” Turner said. “My research explores how people use images and which types of images are most useful in understanding complex earth science issues like water resource management.”

Turner’s research covers a broad area of disciplines as it is a mixture of geology, environmental science, cognitive science, social science and policy. He conducts his research as part of Associate Professor Julie Libarkin’s Geocognition Research Lab.

“The research is incredibly important to the geosciences and policy communities as it will help make scientists’ communication with the public and policy-makers much more effective and useful,” said Libarkin.

As part of Turner’s research, he has non-scientists come into the lab and work through an environmental scenario where they must make a decision on a problem. Participants get the same key information provided to them in different types of formats ranging – plain text, maps, diagrams and charts. Participants make a decision and explain it using an interactive system of electronic white boards, eyetracking software and voice analysis so Turner can understand how participants work through the problem and the effectiveness of the visualizations.

Turner received a $2,800 GSA Research Grant for the project which qualified him to receive one of the 20 Outstanding Mention Awards.

Turner is nearing completion of his PhD in Geological Sciences with a specialization in Environmental Science and Policy. Originally from Rockford, Illinois, he received a B.S. in Geology from Beloit College before entering MSU’s graduate program in 2008.

The Geological Society of America awarded $530,445 to 220 graduate students in 2011 as part of the GSA Research Grants Program. The primary role of the GSA Research Grants Program is to provide partial support for master’s and doctoral thesis research in the geological sciences for graduate students enrolled in universities in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America.


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Written by Michael Steger, College of Natural Science