Research & Field Work

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Read about the research and internship experiences of two GeoDesign majors.

A number of undergraduate and graduate student researchers are working with SSI faculty on their funded research projects during the 2016-2017 academic year.

Talk with Managing Director Susan Kamei about your interests and the current research opportunities.

New Research Opportunity (1/23/17)

Professor Matthew E. Kahn of USC Economics and the Spatial Sciences Institute seeks to hire a research assistant to work on a spatial statistics project related to the geography of sea level rise in the United States.  He expect that this job will require 50 hours of work and the hourly wage is negotiable.

The end goal of the project is to create two spatial data sets:

Data Set #1 will be a census tract level data set that will indicate the sea level rise risk that this area faces in 2017 and the likely risk that it will face in the year 2027.  Data from NOAA will be used to measure this risk.

Data Set #2 will be a point level data set where Professor Kahn will provide exact latitude and longitude co-ordinates and the RA will merge in the flood risk that these locations face.

Please email Professor Kahn at a .pdf of your resume.

Current research projects include:

University Park Campus 3D Project

Under the direction of SSI Director and Professor John P. Wilson and SSI GIS Project Specialist Beau MacDonald, a team of SSI undergraduate and graduate student researchers are developing a state-of-the-art 3D visualization of the University Park campus (UPC) for the USC Facilities Management Services (FMS) that includes buildings and landscape features. With this 3D model, FMS can generate real-time interior and exterior routes for emergency responder, disability access, strategic planning, and other essential services.

Team members are creating models for various landscape elements on the UPC campus, including fountains, statues, fences, gates, trees and other vegetation. For example, after drawing the footprints for fountains using a satellite base map in ArcMap, they collected data in the field, gathering more-accurate location information, taking photos, measuring heights and other attributes. The actual 3D models were made by importing shapefile or geodatabase geometry into CityEngine software and then writing procedural cga code to generate the models. Final steps include importing realistic water and façade textures and then using additional 3D software to develop intricate shapes and decorations and to create some of the statutes for the middle of the fountains. The team includes undergraduates Diana Kim, Joanna Wang, Robin Franke, Sarah Ladhani, Leo Ngo, and Teddy Park, and graduate students Nandan Nayak and Yuqing Qian.

Joanna_photoResearch participation is funded by the Provost’s USC Undergraduate Research Associates (URAP) Program and the USC Dornsife Student Opportunities for Academic Research (SOAR) Program.

This ongoing project already has received industry and academic recognition for its use of the Esri CityEngine modeling, visualization, and data integration program in producing 3D renderings of UPC buildings. Among the awards is the second place prize won by GeoDesign major Ziyu Ouyang and Spatial Studies minor Shan Yu Chuan in the “Digital Media” category of the 2015 USC 17th Annual Undergraduate Symposium for Scholarly and Creative Work for their CityEngine work in their presentation “Modeling 3D Campus and Visualizing Indoor Routing.”

US National Park System Light Pollution project

 Ben Banet and Shan Yu Chuan - US National Park System Light Pollution projectThe US National Park Service has recognized preservation of the night skies as an important purpose of the park system. Information about the levels of light pollution as it might affect wildlife, the human experience, and astronomical observations across all park units is currently lacking, notwithstanding excellent baseline surveys of many parks.

GeoDesign major Ben Banet and Spatial Sciences minor Shan Yu Chuan are working with Dr. Travis Longcore, Assistant Professor of Architecture, Spatial Sciences, and Biological Sciences, to describe and track the levels of light visible from space emitted from and around each of the 400+ units of the National Park system using ArcGIS to analyze remote sensing data from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) Day-Night Band. Ben and Shan are developing and carrying out a methodology for processing the VIIRS data. They are gathering the necessary data such as VIIRS datasets and the National Park shapefiles. Once the methodology is finalized, they will process the data to identify how much light pollution is in and around each park and categorize the parks by similarities in the types and distribution of light pollution.

For this research, Ben and Shan won the second place prize from the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy and honorable mention in the 2016 USC Undergraduate Symposium for Scholarly and Creative Work.

The team will then develop lists of sensitive species associated with park units that might be affected by light pollution as a means to inform decision making about lighting strategies at different parks. Ben’s research participation is funded by the USC Dornsife Student Opportunities for Academic Research (SOAR) Program.

Harvesting Historical Geographic Datasets from Maps project

Dr. Yao-Yi Chiang, Assistant Professor (Research) of Spatial Sciences, is pioneering novel technologies to automatically converting labels and graphic symbols in scanned historical maps into a usable format in a Geographic Information System (GIS). Labels and graphic symbols in maps depict important and interesting geographic phenomena, such as historical records of land use. Historical maps are an especially important source of this information for which limited alternative sources exist. Traditional techniques for automatic map processing require a significant amount of training datasets, the presence of map keys, or ad-hoc preprocessing steps (e.g., image thresholding). This project deals with the challenges in building automatic tools that require only a few training samples for recognizing cartographic symbols from scanned historical maps.

The outcome of this project will be an open-source map-processing tool that eliminates the need for tedious, time-consuming manual work for map digitization. Also, this project will produce a set of training materials and sample datasets that, together with the tool, can be used by researchers in various fields such as in the spatial, social, environmental, and health sciences, to obtain useful geographic information in the past.

As a result of their research with Dr. Chiang, the paper “Recognizing Text On Historical Maps Using Maps From Multiple Time Periods” by URAP student researchers Ronald Yu and Zexuan Luo was accepted to the International Conference on Pattern Recognition, December 4 – 8, 2016, in Cancun, Mexico.

Dr. Chiang’s research group also has worked with the Visual History Archive (VHA) in the USC Shoah Foundation contains a large digital life story collection of survivors before, during, and after the Holocaust, Rwandan, Nanjing, and other genocides.

usc-shoah-map-2Currently, location information (e.g., place names) mentioned in the VHA is indexed by keywords. For example, “Poland” as the keyword for place search on the VHA online archive returns 5,325 indexing terms in which the indexing terms (place names) with verified locations are displayed in a Google Maps web interface. Since place names and administration boundaries can change significantly over time, displaying search results on a current map would not provide the best visualization tool for navigating the VHA digital collection through space and time. In addition, a number places mentioned (indexed) in the testimony could not be located due to the lack of historical sources for verifying the location information of these places. This limits the opportunity for researchers, educators, and the general public to access valuable VHA materials and prevents the VHA collection from being indexed and searched by advanced spatial queries (e.g., finding the testimonies mentioned cities or towns in Poland between 1930 and 1945).

The GeoDesign majors on this research team — Alex Chen, Robin Franke, and Leo Ngo — have used the Esri Story map program to tell these survivor’s experiences from information mined from the archives, maps, and other materials to “go back in time” to recreate the physical world of the survivor’s historical experience.

Climate Change Adaptation project

blue-skies-over-beijing-bookProfessor Matthew E. Kahn, USC Visiting Professor of Economics and Spatial Sciences, is researching the spatial aspects of adapting to climate change and the specific risks that different cities in the United States and around the world will face. In particular, Dr. Kahn is focusing on how China’s urban development patterns are impacting local and global environmental challenges. His book with Siqi Zheng entitled Blue Skies over Beijing: Economic Growth and the Environment in China is forthcoming by Princeton University Press in May 2016. GeoDesign major Ziyu Ouyang’s research participation with Dr. Kahn is funded by the USC Dornsife Student Opportunities for Academic Research (SOAR) Program.

Community Loss and Neighborhood Risk project

Current place-based methodologies focus upon the social behavior of individuals in response to loss (such as unemployment, foreclosure, eviction, and incarceration), leading to results which focus on the behavior of individual residents in reaction to these social stresses. An understudied area is the role of place as a source of stress and an aggregator of individual experiences. Professors Jochen Albrecht and Mimi Abramovitz of City University of New York (CUNY) Hunter College have developed two new GIS-based indices which capture chronic exposure by neighborhood residents to multiple resource losses at the same time. Using maps, they analyzed the spatial distribution of six types of loss in New York City neighborhoods and the characteristics of the residents who live in high- and low-loss neighborhoods (such as health, housing, education, income, food, educational and other insecurities). The potential of this new form of analysis is to develop more finely-calibrated social services and interventions based upon actual community need.

Under the direction of Professor John P. Wilson, GeoDesign major Alex Chen is developing a test case in which he is applying the Hunter College “Community Loss” and “Neighborhood Risks” indices to a Los Angeles regional community. Alex first is identifying and procuring available and commensurate sources of data to use in this model, correlating the loss variables with unit of measurement (e.g., at the ZIP code level), the level of spatial resolution, and data source. Assuming the appropriate data sets are available, he will then calculate the indicators using their model and analyze the quality of data results.

Alex’s research participation is funded by the USC Dornsife Student Opportunities for Academic Research (SOAR) Program.

The Spatial Sciences Institute is offering SSCI 350: International GeoDesign from May 30 – June 30, 2017, during which students will conduct research with international GeoDesign experts in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Delft, and Los Angeles, and will apply Dutch urban planning, geospatial technologies, and environmental design principles to address an LA-area societal challenge of their choice. During the two-week field experience (June 10-June 24, 2017) based at Vrije University Amsterdam, students will participate in a GeoDesign case study to develop a mixed-use green circular economy lifecycle plan for Amsterdam Noord with Dutch GeoDesign practitioners and faculty from Vrije University Amsterdam and USC.  Apply now with Professor Darren Ruddell. Space is limited. 
Check back here in Fall 2016 for opportunities to conduct independent research under the auspices of Spatial Sciences Institute (SSI) faculty with funding from the Provost’s USC Undergraduate Research Associates (URAP) Program for the 2016-2017 academic year.

The SOAR program provides funding to Dornsife majors for participation as a research assistant in a faculty member’s project. The purpose of SOAR is to connect students with faculty members and their research; it allows all students to be mentored one-on-one by USC faculty, and introduces students early in their academic careers to the process of serious scholarly inquiry. Please note that this program does not fund independent research projects, including those related to 490 courses or honors theses.

SOAR is for research during the fall and spring semesters of the academic year. Funding applications are accepted for the first five weeks of fall and the first four weeks of spring semester. Please check the USC Dornsife Student Opportunities for Academic Research (SOAR) Program website for application deadlines for AY 2016-2017.

The Dornsife SURF Program provides funding to USC Dornsife majors to pursue undergraduate research, in collaboration with Dornsife faculty, either on or off campus during the summer semester. Students are encouraged to conduct on-site research either at USC or under the direction of USC Dornsife faculty at many institutions across the nation and around the globe. Any student in good standing, with at least one USC Dornsife major, may apply for a research stipend of up to $3,000 to support a summer research project of their choosing. This stipend may be used to pay for travel, equipment, living expenses, fees, or other costs related to the research effort. Students participating in the Spatial Sciences Institute SSCI 350: International GeoDesign “Problems Without Passports” research course may use SURF funds to offset course tuition.

Call the Dornsife Dean’s Office at (213) 740-2531 for more information about eligibility, deadlines, and the application process.