The DeepTree exhibit: Visualizing the tree of life to facilitate informal learning

Florian Block, Michael S. Horn, Brenda Caldwell Phillips, Judy Diamond, E. Margaret Evans, Chia Shen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


In this paper, we present the DeepTree exhibit, a multi-user, multi-touch interactive visualization of the Tree of Life. We developed DeepTree to facilitate collaborative learning of evolutionary concepts. We will describe an iterative process in which a team of computer scientists, learning scientists, biologists, and museum curators worked together throughout design, development, and evaluation. We present the importance of designing the interactions and the visualization hand-in-hand in order to facilitate active learning. The outcome of this process is a fractal-based tree layout that reduces visual complexity while being able to capture all life on earth; a custom rendering and navigation engine that prioritizes visual appeal and smooth fly-through; and a multi-user interface that encourages collaborative exploration while offering guided discovery. We present an evaluation showing that the large dataset encouraged free exploration, triggers emotional responses, and facilitates visitor engagement and informal learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6327285
Pages (from-to)2789-2798
Number of pages10
JournalIEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2012


  • Informal science education
  • collaborative learning
  • large tree visualizations
  • multi-touch interaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Signal Processing
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


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