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Old botanical lab becomes new digital centre

Lab for exploring data digitally, available to all fields of study, opens at the Faculty Library of Social Sciences

A new research space has become available to digitally minded students at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH). If you have an idea for a workshop, a data set you need to explore, or just want to study while pretending you’re in a futuristic jungle, your new favourite place opened yesterday at the Faculty Library of Social Sciences.

The Digital Social Science Lab (DSSL) has iMacs, projectors, and a big touchscreen available, as well as space to use your own laptop, and software for exploring data in different ways. Mads Korsgaard, part of the team behind the lab, explains that the core idea was to create an environment that supports modern learning processes and ideas that are important in contemporary social science.

”We don’t just want people in here to be passive receivers of knowledge. We want them to be active knowledge creators,” says Korsgaard.

Connecting past, present, and future

Christian Lauersen, head of the Faculty Library of Social Sciences, agrees that the DSSL is about creating value for UCPH, lecturers, and students. He hopes that the lab will help foster data literacy within the social sciences and academia in Denmark.

Opening speech by Christian Lauersen, head of the Faculty Library of Social Science. Photo: Sarah Ommanney

The creators of the DSSL were inspired by other international data labs they visited on research trips, including one in the New York Public Library, according to Michael Svendsen, also part of the creating team. Especially the combination of IT, library facilities, and high performance computing caught their attention. The typical interiors, however, didn’t suit a Danish context.

They decided instead to draw on the history of the building that now houses the Faculty Library of Social Sciences, in order to create an inspiring learning environment. It used to be an old botanical laboratory, so an interior designer used live plants and botanical prints to decorate the room. ”We wanted to draw on the past, connect it with the present, and aim it at the future,” says Korsgaard.

”Really cool social science”

The lab already has several events lined up, including projects on open data and workshops on online privacy. Pedro Parraguez Ruiz, postdoc at the Technical University of Denmark, demonstrated how the touchscreen works and explained how it can help explore data more fully: ”Usually graphs average or collapse information so we lose data; in networks we can express all the data.”

Pedro Parraguez Ruiz demonstrating the touchscreen. Photo: Sarah Ommanney

Malte Aaman Agger, a sociology student at UCPH, plans to use the lab to work on his bachelor project. He welcomes the prospect of an interdisciplinary meeting place for studying and collaboration.

”Students who have grown up with the internet and social media have been missing the necessary resources. Now we have a place where each student from every faculty can come together and collaborate, and make some really cool social science,” Agger says.

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