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This university’s interactive lab is revolutionizing research

University of Washington brings data to life in new “Idea Incubator” space with an interactive video wall for health sciences researchers.

Our mission at the Health Sciences Library at the University of Washington is to advance the healthcare fields through scholarship, research, education and access to health information resources. We support not just university faculty, health researchers and students, but also a variety of other professionals and researchers in the Puget Sound and state of Washington.

With that in mind, when the university library decided to add a new space on campus to enhance research data analysis and allow multidisciplinary collaboration, we didn’t want just another conference room; we wanted to give researchers something they couldn’t get elsewhere on campus.

To create and fund a space on campus that would accelerate health research and innovation by supporting researchers and investigators in our community, our library formed a partnership with the Institute of Translational Health Sciences (ITHS), the University of Washington Medicine Research Information Technology, and the National Network of Libraries of Medicine-Pacific Northwest Region in the summer of 2015.

The main goal was to streamline health sciences translational researchers’ and faculty investigative experiences. Before, the investigative experience of a faculty member at the University of Washington required that they visit multiple websites and contact multiple departments, including our library, to obtain support for new translational health research.

ITHS and our library were used to handling routine interactions, by employing our separate areas of expertise, but in the digital age, researchers’ needs have changed–and nowhere on campus was there a publicly available way to view joint or multifaceted projects with multiple collaborators.

Designing a New Lab

The university campus is large, with 16 libraries, and researchers are located on both the north and south sides, so the space had to be centrally located as well as adjacent to the hospital and labs. The Health Sciences Library was a good fit in this sense, and our footprint is larger than some of the other departments on campus, so our health sciences library was chosen as a location.

To design the Translational Research and Information Lab (TRAIL), we selected a staff office area to retrofit. We engaged CompView, an AV integrator based out of Seattle, to help us decide what technologies to incorporate into the lab.

ITHS specifically requested using digital signage to support the researchers, so we considered projectors or a single large display; but with a goal of multidisciplinary collaboration, we wanted something that would support multiple sources of video and data.

In the end, the partnership decided to install a 2×3 video wall comprising 55-inch NEC X555UNV displays, which would help health sciences clinical researchers analyze and visualize data, and give them the ability to send six different sources from various devices to any or all of the displays.

(Next page:  University of Washington’s TRAIL success; meeting changing needs)

The TRAIL Space’s Success

The TRAIL incubator space offers comfortable seating on two colorful, modular sofas; a table with a whiteboard surface; and two smaller wall-mounted whiteboards. The flooring is hardwood-style acoustic tiling to absorb sound.

The space now includes the following equipment:

  • Data Wall – six 55-inch screens (three wide, two tall) that act as monitors and support HDMI and VGA inputs
  • PC connected to and configured for the Data Wall if users do not bring their own device
  • Wireless keyboard and mouse for use with the PC
  • Polycom telephone for conference calls
  • Two whiteboards – one extra-large, one medium
  • Large modular drink-friendly sofa with a waterproof surface (seats six)
  • Medium modular drink-friendly sofa with a waterproof surface (seats three for one-on-one consultations)
  • Six ball chairs and collaboration table
  • Power outlets throughout the room, mounted waist-high to plug in laptops

Optional equipment users can request includes:

  • Samsung 360° Camera
  • Amazon Echo
  • Video adaptor for DisplayPort
  • Video adaptor for DVI
  • Apple TV for streaming video
  • Telephone (Conventional, non-Polycom)
  • Whiteboard markers/eraser cloth
  • Chalk/eraser cloth

Connectivity is on a rolling rack to the side of a column, with all inputs on the front of the rack. All types of computers and platforms can connect, whether laptop, tablet, PC or Mac.

To enable system control, CompView added a color touch panel to the video wall, so investigators can choose what inputs to show on which displays and how they want the layout to look, and CompView trained our library staff on how to use it.

The Changing Needs of University Health Sciences Researchers

In recent years, services for researchers have morphed considerably, and services that require a video wall include research data management, survey creation support, librarian consultations, data visualization spaces, bibliometrics, team science and more.

The partnership recognized the need to merge services and workflows with a space that housed a video wall to create fully immersive visual environments for joint groups or teams of investigators to view data.

Transforming medical libraries into learning spaces for the researchers and investigators working in a university in 2025 is going to require bona-fide interactive spaces that have been tested for proof of concept, and we can’t remain constrained, even trapped, by the need to stay close to our traditional approaches in research universities.

Instead, we must show that we can turn separate workflows that support health sciences researchers and clinical investigators–formerly discrete audiences–into a mass of productive, regional clinical investigators working with real-time data flow to solve population health problems, and we must demonstrate that this transformed approach to technology and information services is equally reliable and valid to the approach we desire to retire.

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