Atlas of Science: Visualizing What We Know

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by Katy Börner
Published by MIT Press

13 x 11, 288 pp.
500 color illus.

Introduction  |  Author  |  Awards  |  History  |  Vendors  |  Images  |  References  |  Q&A  |  Press

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Cartographic maps have guided our explorations for centuries, allowing us to navigate the world. Science maps have the potential to guide our search for knowledge in the same way, allowing us to visualize scientific results. Science maps help us navigate, understand, and communicate the dynamic and changing structure of science and technology—help us make sense of the avalanche of data generated by scientific research today. Atlas of Science, featuring more than thirty full-page science maps, fifty data charts, a timeline of science-mapping milestones, and 500 color images, serves as a sumptuous visual index to the evolution of modern science and as an introduction to "the science of science"—charting the trajectory from scientific concept to published results.

Atlas of Science, based on the popular exhibit, Places & Spaces: Mapping Science, describes and displays successful mapping techniques. The heart of the book is a visual feast: Claudius Ptolemy's Cosmographia World Map from 1482; a guide to a PhD thesis that resembles a subway map; "the structure of science" as revealed in a map of citation relationships in papers published in 2002; a visual periodic table; a history flow visualization of the Wikipedia article on abortion; a globe showing the worldwide distribution of patents; a forecast of earthquake risk; hands-on science maps for kids; and many more. Each entry includes the story behind the map and biographies of its makers.

Not even the most brilliant minds can keep up with today's deluge of scientific results. Science maps show us the landscape of what we know.

“In today’s confusing and fast-changing world, if we are to shape our children’s lives for the best, it is essential that we understand what science is thinking, where it’s coming from, and where it’s going. This fascinating, lucid, brilliantly illustrated book shows us all that.”
--James Burke, author of Connections

“Science is a voyage of discovery and Katy Börner has provided its first atlas. This excellent book offers a compendium of all that is best in explaining visual maps of our scientific knowledge.”
--Michael Batty, University College London, author of Cities and Complexity

“Featuring one unique and intriguing visual design after another, Atlas of Science illustrates the origin and evolution of science mapping.”
--Chaomei Chen, Drexel University, author of Mapping Scientific Frontiers


KATY BÖRNER is the Victor H. Yngve Professor of Information Science at the School of Library and Information Science and Founding Director of the Cyberinfrastructure for Network Science Center at Indiana University. She is a curator of the Places & Spaces: Mapping Science exhibit. Her research focuses on the development of data analysis and visualization techniques for information access, understanding, and management. She is particularly interested in the study of the structure and evolution of scientific disciplines; the analysis and visualization of online activity; and the development of cyberinfrastructures for large scale scientific collaboration and computation. She holds a MS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Technology in Leipzig, 1991 and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Kaiserslautern, 1997. Visit her home page here.


  • ASIS&T: The Information Society for the Information Age. 2011 Award Winners. Atlas of Science: Visualizing What We Know wins Best Information Science Book award. Website accessed 09/02/2011. [PDF]

    "The winner for the ASIS&T best Information Science book published in 2010 is Katy Börner's Atlas of Science: Visualizing What We Know (MIT).

    The international jury consisted of scholars who represented diverse views from across the field of information science. We are unanimous in our evaluation of this book as an extraordinary achievement of scholarship. We think that it not only meets but exceeds all the criteria we have for this award. We consider it to be a spectacular achievement not only because it is the result of a prodigious amount of scholarly work of the highest quality, and because its subject matter is absolutely central to the interests of ASIS&T and its community, but also because of the work's visual qualities and high production value, which will ensure that it will be widely read beyond the IS field.

    In the Atlas of Science, Katy Börner has generalized a key component of information science, drawing on all the relevant work in many fields, and brought it into the broader world of science in a particularly thorough and beautiful way. Börner's fundamental interest is in informetrics, one of the three basic branches of information science, and the "Atlas" is a series of representations of science through bibliometric means. She ranges across efforts made in many fields, but all from a scientometric perspective, and she gives full recognition to major scholars in information science who have contributed to that development. Börner has brought scientometrics fully into the spotlight of the 21st-century world of multimedia visualization. This is the sort of representation of informetrics that will get the attention of the wider world for information science. The author's own agenda for visualization in the introduction and in the overall organization of the book makes it unique and distinct among comparable efforts. The Atlas is impressively designed and produced - a triumph of scholarship and a reader's delight."

    2010 ASIS&T best IS book of the year Jury:
    Marcia Bates
    Marija Dalbello (2011 Chair)
    Jonathan Furner
    Elena Maceviciute
    Peiling Wang

  • Atlas of Science wins Honorable Mention in the Single Volume Reference/Science category of the 2010 PROSE Awards. Website accessed 06/10/14. [PDF]

Some of you asked why, when, where, and how the Atlas came into existence. Here are some factoids.

The first entry in Börner’s Atlas diary is from January 4, 2007. It reads: “The Atlas is not only for the 300 scientometricians that have historically studied and mapped science, but for anybody who needs better access to science and technology results.” I want to “show readers a world—the world of knowledge—in new ways. I want to introduce them to a Candy Land of new insights, methods, tools, and solutions.” Later the diary reads: “Still sorting through five years of research. It is interesting to puzzle the many bits and pieces together to see a larger picture emerge. The main contribution of the Atlas might not be the many maps, but the conceptualization of how science evolves dynamically and how it can be measured, mapped, and understood.”

Data collection for the Atlas began in 2005 with the debut of the first exhibit maps. Much of the writing for the Atlas of Science was done during Börner’s sabbatical in Spring 2007. It continued until Summer 2009. Final files were submitted to MIT in April 2010.

Writing happened mostly at Börner’s home in the middle of an Indiana forest. As the project progressed, printouts of pages, possible imagery, and page layouts started to fill most of the walls. Two new large file cabinets were acquired to organize all the material needed for the Atlas. Text, raw data, and images, together with hand-drawn sketches of the layout were used by Elisha Hardy Allgood to design mock-ups of each double-page spread. These mock-ups were essential for finalizing the amount of text, the concrete image(s), and the final layout for each page. Text and imagery had to go hand-in-hand to create synergies not achievable by any alone, yet each major theme had to fit on a double-page spread. Later, the design mock-ups were used as the basis for the final print design.

Many different datasets were considered for rendering the figures and maps in the Atlas. Ultimately, we used only the highest-quality datasets for which permissions could be acquired. Interested to connect current data and prior work, we extended earlier charts of scientific productivity using current data. Due to copyright regulations, these charts could not be included in the Atlas.

The decision of how to list the more than 1800 references was a difficult one. Some of the pages have more than 80 references and placing 80 four-digit numbers in the text would have cluttered up the pages. The listing of references and credits by double-page spread, accompanied by a searchable listing of all references, was a compromise between usability and affordability.

Atlas Trivia
The Atlas features more than 30 full-page science maps, 50 data charts, a timeline of science-mapping milestones, and 500 color images. It was written on four different laptops and two desktop computers. The raw files use over 10GB of disk space.



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  • Public Intelligence Blog. Atlas of Science: Visualizing What We Know. (website accessed 08/19/2010).

Acknowledgements: This exhibit is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. IIS-0238261, CHE-0524661, IIS-0534909 and IIS-0715303, the James S. McDonnell Foundation; Thomson Reuters; the Cyberinfrastructure for Network Science Center, University Information Technology Services, and the School of Library and Information Science, all three at Indiana University. Some of the data used to generate the science maps is from the Web of Science by Thomson Reuters and Scopus by Elsevier. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.