Technological advances are driving European research and people are increasingly becoming dependent on technology to make their lives more efficient. Visual analytics marries analytical reasoning with visual interactive interfaces to resolve complex problems. The EU-funded VISMASTER ('Visual analytics - Mastering the information age') project, which received more than EUR 530,000 in funding under the 'Information and communication technologies' (ICT) Theme of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), successfully tied together European research on visual analytics and laid the groundwork for future research and development (R&D) projects in this field. VISMASTER brought together 26 research and business experts to merge academic and industrial R&D excellence from various individual disciplines. According to project coordinator Dr Jörn Kohlhammer of Realtime Solutions for Simulation and Visual Analytics at the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics (IGD) in Germany, joining R&D excellence from different sources would establish a strong visual analytics research community. 'An array of thematic working groups was set up by the consortium, which focused on advancing the state of the art in visual analytics,' Dr Kohlhammer tells CORDIS News. 'These working groups joined research excellence in the fields of data management, data analysis, spatial-temporal data, and human visual perception research with the wider visualisation research community. The project leader notes how VISMASTER forged a 'strong European visual analytics community, defined the research agenda, exposed public and private stakeholders to visual analytics technology and set the stage for larger follow-up visual analytics research initiatives'. Over a two-year period, the consortium worked diligently at ensuring its work bore fruit. The most important result obtained by the project partners is a research roadmap titled 'Mastering the Information Age - Solving Problems with Visual Analytics', introduced at ICT 2010 in Brussels, Belgium from 27 to 29 September. The final delivery of the project is the research agenda. Dr Kohlhammer points out that 'it presents a detailed review of all aspects of visual analytics, indicating open areas and strategies for the research in the coming years.' He goes on to say that the primary sources for this book are the final reports of the working groups, the cross-community reports and the resources built up on the project's web platform. The VISMASTER partners believe that the research agenda presented in this book, and in particular the recommendations found in the final chapter, will prove instrumental in ensuring a sustainable visual analytics community after the project ends. The research agenda will also prove crucial for scientists eager to join and bolster the community. In terms of who stands to benefit the most from the VISMASTER project, Dr Kohlhammer says it serves as a reference for research programme committees and researchers in the ICT field and beyond. 'The research roadmap does not only cover issues that correspond to scientific challenges, it also outlines the connections to sciences, technologies and industries for which visual analytics can become an "enabling technology",' he comments. VISMASTER also offers industry key solutions for data collection and storage. 'Governments, industry, research institutes, and people themselves are collecting and hoarding large amounts of data which are presently often not utilised in the best possible way for solving the world's pressing problems,' Dr Kohlhammer tells CORDIS News. 'We need better and more usable solutions to extract information and ultimately knowledge from these rich data resources. Our ultimate goal as a research community is to provide visual analytics and methodologies, tools, and infrastructure that will benefit society in general, and industry and SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) in particular.' So what's next for VISMASTER? Dr Kohlhammer says that besides the community 'living on' via the project's website, and taking part at the new European visual analytics conference EuroVA in Norway in 2011, the partners will participate in more specific ICT projects in the area of visual analytics including VIS-SENSE ('Visual analytic representation of large datasets for enhancing network security'), a project also funded under the ICT Theme of FP7. Backed with EUR 2.35 million in funding, VIS-SENSE includes US-based partners, thus bringing visual analytics research to the global arena. The VISMASTER partners also believe the future of ICT 'lies in a better division of labour between humans and computers'. Commenting on the things to come, Dr Kohlhammer says: 'An interesting observation is that all grand challenge problems of the 21st century, such as climate change, energy, financial, health or security crisis, require the exploration and analysis of very large and complex data sets that can be done by neither the computer nor the human alone.' Human intelligence and intuition must be joined with the storage and processing power of today's computers. 'Visual analytics will therefore likely develop into a general science of problem solving and interactive discovery,' he notes. 'The (VISMASTER's) visual analytics research road map is designed to pave the way for visual analytics to become such a tool of scientific discovery.'