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Jim Thomas, Dirk Bartz, Jacques Bertin

To Those We Lost This Year

2010 has not been a kind year for visualization. Three key people who have made a large impact in the field have passed away this year (in decreasing order of age): Jacques Bertin, Jim Thomas, and Dirk Bartz. They will be sorely missed.

Jacques Bertin (1918-2010)

Jacques Bertin's work is well-known in information visualization, but since it was published in the 1960s, and Bertin was never part of our community, few have probably considered him a contemporary. He died on May 3, 2010, at the age of 92.

Bertin was a cartographer and geographer, fields in which he was (and still is) highly respected. His seminal work, Sémiologie Graphique, has had an impact not only on those fields, though, but still serves as one of the most important pillars of theory in visualization. While his work on marks and retinal variables is known best, he also described the reorderable matrix, essentially an interactive visualization tool operated by hand.

The English translation of Bertin's Book, Semiology of Graphics, is being reprinted by ESRI Press. This will make his ideas more accessible for a new generation of researchers in visualization, geography, and other fields.

There is not much information to be found online about Bertin. Juan C. Dürsteler interviewed Jacques Bertin two years ago. There is also a Wikipedia page with some biographical information.

James J. Thomas (1946-2010)

Few people knew that Jim Thomas had cancer, so the notice about his death came as a shock to most of us. He died at age 64, on August 6, 2010.

Jim was an important part of the visualization community, both as a person and as somebody who was able to talk politics and money with the best of them. He was the driving force behind the development of the field of visual analytics, which has established itself as a third branch of visualization research (in addition to information visualization and scientific visualization). Together with Kris Cook, Jim edited Illuminating the Path, the research agenda for visual analytics, founded the National Visualization and Analytics Center (NVAC), and helped secure funding for the Regional Visualization and Analysis Centers (RVACs) and a number of other programs.

I remember Jim fondly as the session chair at the first visualization conference I ever presented a paper at (2001, in San Diego). He was a cheerful and friendly guy, and always fun to be around. He was always looking ahead, pushing the boundaries on the research that was being done. In addition to the programs mentioned above, he also kept talking about a science of interaction, which he considered to be as important for successful visualization as understanding the representation side.

At VisWeek, there will be a Jim Thomas Wine Sip (if you knew Jim, you know why this particular activity was chosen) on Tuesday night (7pm-8:30pm). For more information about Jim, there is an obituary online, as well as his Wikipedia page.

Dirk Bartz (1967-2010)

Dirk Bartz died on March 28, 2010, while running a half-marathon in Berlin. He was 42.

Dirk was a Professor of Computer-Assisted Surgery in Leipzig, where he was building up an interdisciplinary research group. The book on visualization in medicine, which he wrote with Bernhard Preim, is used as a textbook around the world. In addition to his research contributions, Dirk also worked tirelessly as the publicity chair for VisWeek, EuroVis, and other conferences. Even if you didn't know him personally, you almost certainly received email from him in the last few years.

Dirk was a very friendly and funny guy: I remember talking to him at VisSym 1999 (the conference is now called EuroVis) in Vienna. I was still a student back then, and was impressed with how easy it was to talk to him, and how much time he'd spend explaining things I asked him about.

There are two wonderful obituaries about Dirk, one written by Klaus Mueller and another one by Bernhard Preim. There is also an in-memoriam page on facebook, as well as a page about Dirk on the German Wikipedia.

Posted by Robert Kosara on October 17, 2010.