Charlotte Lee Gets Her Ducks in a Row

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Computer Supported Collaboration (CSC) Laboratory was launched this year to research the design of information systems shared by multiple groups of users. Charlotte Lee established the lab as a way to investigate the development and use of information infrastructures in science and engineering, computer supported cooperative work, and computer supported cooperative leisure. Recent projects explore these themes with regard to environmental microbiology, functional brain imaging research, museum exhibition design, and even hobbyist rubber duck collectors.

The CSC Lab’s research will help computer scientists, engineers, domain scientists, and social scientists aid collaboration using cyberinfrastructures. Cyberinfrastructures are large-scale, data-heavy, geographically diverse scientific enterprises supported by advanced technological infrastructures such as supercomputers and high-speed networks. The Lab is currently performing cutting-edge research on two projects for the National Science Foundation, studying cyberinfrastructure development. One project compares two supercomputing centers, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and the San Diego Supercomputer Center, while the other project involves the metagenomics of Marine Microbiology. The time environment is very different for these types of projects, as it can take 15 years to develop a system designed to last 100 years. Says Lee, “The technology is changing fast enough that it enables different scientific questions to be asked. The challenge is to design for innovation and design systems that are modular or flexible or somehow malleable enough to keep up with the rapid pace of science.”

Lee, who holds the Guinness World Record for largest collection of rubber ducks, learned qualitative research methods while studying Sociology. She prefers qualitative research to quantitative because it allows her to ask the questions that interest her most, such as the social implications of various technologies and how social norms get encoded. “Qualitative research is so powerful for uncovering how things get done, how processes change, and for uncovering tacit knowledge,” Lee says.

It takes a lot of time and coordination to equip and configure a lab. Now that the space is set up on the third floor of Sieg Hall, Lee is eager to get started and involve more students. Opportunities include taking part in research groups, conducting independent study, or becoming a research assistant.

For more information on the CSC Lab, visit https://depts.washington.edu/csclab. --by Devor Barton