Alyx Burns - A white man with glasses and a short beard wearing a white shirt and grey sweatshirt smiles at the camera in front of a patterned mural.

Alyx Burns (he/him/his)

PhD Student in Computer Science
University of Massachusetts Amherst

I am currently a PhD student in the HCI-VIS Lab working with Dr. Narges Mahyar. I currently study communicative data visualization techniques and research methodologies. In other words, I study what makes data visualizations like charts and graphs "good" for communicating information and ways that scientists can measure that goodness. Outside of my research, I am a committed teacher and mentor focused on ways that Computer Science education and research can be more accessible for people who have been historically excluded.

You can find my CV here.


News

  • August 2021: My short paper "Making the Invisible Visible: Risks and benefits of disclosing metadata in visualization" was accepted for presentation at the Visualization for Social Good workshop at IEEE VIS 2021.
  • August 2021: Last summer, I worked with colleagues from Mount Holyoke College and Microsoft to develop curriculum for educators about building resiliency through mentorship. You can now find the toolkit linked in Microsoft's article "How can you build your tech resilience?"
  • July 2021: My paper "Designing with Pictographs: Envision Topics without Sacrificing Understanding" was accepted for publication in IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics.
  • May 2021: I attended ACM CHI for the first time!
  • October 2020: I presented my paper "How to evaluate data visualizations across different levels of understanding" at BELIV during my first VIS conference.
  • August 2020: My paper "How to evaluate data visualizations across different levels of understanding" was accepted for presentation at the BELIV 2020 workshop.
  • February 2020: I finished my Masters degree.
  • January 2020: I joined the HCI-VIS lab under the guidance of Dr. Narges Mahyar.
  • August 2019: CICS wrote a news article about the summer classes that ran this summer, including my class "Circuits, Robotics, and Arduino."
  • August 2017: I began graduate school at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Excited to be staying in the valley!

Projects

2 versions of a bar chart about COVID-19 symptoms. The bar charts look similar, except that one uses rectangles for the bars and the other uses a grid of little people.

Designing with Pictographs

In this project, we ask - what effect do pictographs have on the way that people make sense of data? We used Bloom's taxonomy and a series of questions about experience to test different infographics with and without pictographs. We found that pictographs had no impact on understanding but were thought to help readers envision the topics.
TVCG Paper

A drawing of a person looking at a computer repeated 6 times, 1 per level of Bloom's taxonomy. Each of the people is accompanied by a thought bubble with a symbolic representation of that level.

Bloom’s Taxonomy for Evaluation

In this project, we described and demonstrated a method of evaluating the effectiveness of a data visualization based on what kind of information was learned by readers. The systematic method generates 6 comprehension based on the 6 levels of Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning Objectives.
BELIV Paper | Recorded Talk

7 small charts, each depicting a different set of statistics about Black and white people in the United States.

Revisiting W.E.B. Du Bois’ Abolitionist Visualizations

In this project, we recreated 7 data visualizations originally created by W.E.B. Du Bois in 1900 using modern data. By comparing these charts to their historical equivalents, we can glimpse where America has made progress toward racial justice and where there is still work to be done.
VIS Poster Paper | Video

A person with long hair and manicured nails presses a button on a conical touch screen.

Multi-Human Robot Interaction

In this project, I created a conical, projection-based touch-screen to enable multiple individuals to interact with a single assitive robot simultaneously. This work was my Masters' project, advised by Joydeep Biswas and Heather Pon-Barry.

A graph is shown which is redundant and persistent.

Persistent, Distributed Multi-Robot Formations

In this project, we demonstrated how to create multi-robot groups which keep their shape as they move through space, without the need for a centralized intelligence. Additionally, we showed how these formations could be constructed to be resistant to mechanical failures.
CCCG Paper | DARS Paper


Publications

Making the Invisible Visible: Risks and benefits of disclosing metadata in visualization

Alyxander Burns, Thai On, Christiana Lee, Rachel Shapiro, Cindy Xiong, and Narges Mahyar. To appear in Visualization for Social Good Workshop, 5 pages. 2021.
Paper

Designing with pictographs: Envision topics without sacrificing understanding

Alyxander Burns, Cindy Xiong, Steven Franconeri, Alberto Cairo, and Narges Mahyar. To appear in IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, 13 pages. IEEE, 2021.
Paper

How to evaluate data visualizations across different levels of understanding

Alyxander Burns, Cindy Xiong, Steven Franconeri, Alberto Cairo, and Narges Mahyar. In 2020 IEEE Workshop on Evaluation and Beyond-Methodological Approaches to Visualization (BELIV), pp. 19-28. IEEE, 2020.
Paper | Recorded Talk

Looking to the Past to Visualize the Present: Revisiting W.E.B. Du Bois' Abolitionist Visualizations

Andrew Cunningham, Alyxander Burns, and Narges Mahyar, Posters of the IEEE Conference on Visualization, 2 pages. IEEE, 2020.
Paper | Video

Redundant Persistent Acylic Formations for Vision-based Control of Distributed Multi-Agent Formations

Alyxander Burns, Peter Klemperer, Jaemarie Solyst, Audrey St. John. Proceedings of the 31st Canadian Conference on Computational Geometry (CCCG 2019), pp. 29-37. 2019.
Paper

Persistent Multi-Robot Formations with Redundancy

Alyxander Burns, Bernd Schulze, and Audrey St John. Distributed Autonomous Robotic Systems, pp. 133-146. Springer, Cham, 2018.
Paper


Teaching

Instructor of Record:

Do Data Speak for Themselves?

University of Massachusetts Amherst, First-Year Seminar, 2 Sections

Fall 2021

Math Puzzles

University of Massachusetts Amherst, First-Year Seminar, 2 Sections

Fall 2021

Creative Coding and Data Visualization

University of Massachusetts Amherst, Pre-College, Online

Summer 2021

Introduction to Programming

University of Massachusetts Amherst, Pre-College, Online

Summer 2020

Introduction to Computational Problem Solving: "Big Data"

Mount Holyoke College

Spring 2020

Circuits, Robotics, and Arduino

University of Massachusetts Amherst, Pre-College

Summer 2019

Teaching Assistant:

Advanced Methods in Human-Computer Interaction

Instructor: Narges Mahyar

Spring 2021

Introduction to Social & Cultural Analytics

Instructor: Laure Thompson

Spring 2021

Introduction to Human-Computer Interaction

Instructor: Narges Mahyar

Fall 2020

Inside the Box: How Computers Work

Instructor: Charles Weems

Fall 2017 - 2019

Introduction to Programming with Python

Instructor: William Verts

Spring 2019

Make: Physical Computing

Instructor: Rui Wang

Spring 2018


Mentorship

Stonewall Center Mentor

University of Massachusetts Amherst

2020 - Present

EMBER Research Mentor

CICS, University of Massachusetts Amherst

2021

PhD Applicant Support Program Mentor

CICS, University of Massachusetts Amherst

2020

New Graduate Student Mentor

CICS, University of Massachusetts Amherst

2019

Eureka! Creative Computing Workshop Mentor

Girls Inc. of Holyoke

2017 - 2019


Service

Committee Against Racism and for Equality, Faculty Teaching

University of Massachusetts Amherst

2020 - Present

Student Volunteer - IEEE VIS

2020, 2021

Reviewer - alt.VIS

2021

Reviewer - IEEE VIS

2020, 2021

Reviewer - ACM Creativity & Cognition

2021