Bharath Ganesh Babu
Associate Professor of Geography
“Mental mapping of the world beyond one’s proximity must have been critical for human survival and evolution,” says Professor Bharath Ganesh Babu. “And transferring our mental maps on to parchment or paper must have allowed us to share our spatial knowledge with community members as well as future generations. Today, we are able to input and visualize an incredible amount and variety of information within digital maps using sophisticated computers. Technology has changed, but the fundamental role of maps remains.”
Professor Ganesh Babu, who teaches courses in geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing, helps Valpo students master mapping technologies that are increasingly important as geographically specific data proliferates.
The enormous market penetration of GPS-enabled smart phones, for example, provides a multitude of data points that allow Google Maps and others to assess traffic flow. Location-based tweets offer a promising tool for epidemiologists tracking the path of disease outbreaks.
“But it takes more than mouse clicks to use these tools effectively,” says Professor Ganesh Babu. “You need to know what data is useful as well as how to present the data in a way that makes sense to the intended audience — what scale works, importance of projection, types of symbols that make sense, simple and smart use of design space, and so on. You even need to understand the cultural dimensions of the information before venturing to map it. You need the kind of perspective that geographers pursue.
“Geographers look at the world at different scales, with different layers of information. We look at the nuts and bolts, but we also look at the big picture,” Professor Ganesh Babu explains. “So many of the world’s problems come from not standing back and looking at broader patterns — interactions of entities in space. My students benefit from learning technical skills, but they also benefit from learning how to figure out and solve problems using common sense.”
In his advanced GIS and remote sensing courses, Professor Ganesh Babu says, students spend the entire semester doing original research: they write a research proposal, collect data over the course of the semester, conduct spatial analyses, and present their findings.
“Sometimes their research really makes a significant impact on their sense of accomplishment as well as identifying their strengths,” Professor Ganesh Babu says, “and I want them to have that experience.”
“I think it really gives them an edge,” he concludes, “because it shows they can understand how to do research and think independently.”