UC Riverside Debuts New Center for Geospatial Sciences Under Founding Director Sergio Rey

Located inside UCR’s Tomás Rivera Library, the center is a university-wide resource for researchers working in a variety of disciplines

Tomás Rivera Library

UCR’s Tomás Rivera Library, home of the campus’ new Center for Geospatial Sciences

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — Human beings have been making maps for millennia, but the birth of geographic information systems (GIS) in the late 1960s ushered in an era of tech-infused cartography. Nowadays, GIS is a ubiquitous part of life; it even powers your mobile phone’s mapping app.

A growing academic discipline known as geographic information science, or GIScience, meanwhile, combines traditional GIS technology with statistical data to support scientific research and solve complex problems related to resource management, governmental policy, and industry, among other areas.

Launched in late September, the University of California, Riverside’s Center for Geospatial Sciences (CGS) is the campus’ new hub for GIScience research and spatial analysis. Overseen by Founding Director Sergio Rey, a professor of public policy, the center is stationed inside Room 159 of UCR’s Tomás Rivera Library and designed to be a university-wide resource.

“The center will establish a core of excellence in geospatial science at UCR and serve as a catalyst to foster interdisciplinary research where spatial analysis is central to the research questions at hand,” said Michael Pazzani, UCR’s vice chancellor for research and economic development.

According to Rey, GIScience and spatial analysis offer substantial benefits for researchers working in a host of fields, from ecologists studying the impacts of climate change on animal and plant distributions to sociologists exploring the dynamics of segregation in urban areas.

“Space offers unique opportunities to individuals; becoming spatially aware is important in terms of liberal studies because understanding how space shapes different people’s opportunity sets is critical,” Rey said.

Sergio Rey

Sergio Rey

Together with founding faculty Ran Wei, an assistant professor of public policy, and Amr Magdy, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering, Rey aims to assemble a team of leading scholars in GIScience to make advances in spatial analysis through cross-disciplinary research.

He emphasized GIScience’s flexibility, noting the center’s founding faculty have collaborated with scholars from disciplines as wide ranging as computer science, economics, engineering, public policy, archaeology, criminology, and psychology.

“We know that humans are visually attracted to maps. After all, the first maps predate the development of writing,” Rey said. “But now the question becomes: What are we seeing on those maps and how do we interpret it? Are there patterns? Is there a cluster? Or is it all just random chance? Our center is working to develop new visualization and statistical methods to offer more powerful approaches to answer these questions.”

Rey, who began his undergraduate education in environmental science and regional planning at the New Jersey-based Stockton University, said he initially became interested in GIScience and spatial analysis during Atlantic City’s early-1980s casino boom.

“Back then, epidemiologists were tracking the impacts of the casinos on the elderly populations that lived in the tenements the casinos bought out,” he said. “These people’s entire social networks were destroyed because they were all relocated, and as a result their mortality rates shot up; I realized then that what happened spatially in terms of the displacement of these populations mattered.”

One of the center’s first projects comes courtesy of a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Social and Economic Sciences to Rey, who will dedicate the funding toward studying the way in which neighborhoods are measured and defined in urban social science research.

He said delving into the topic is crucial because research in the social sciences often uses the neighborhood — which is essentially an ever-changing construct — as a unit of analysis, and that such research can later affect policy decision-making and market analysis.

“The project’s end goal is to develop methods that provide more comprehensive views of neighborhoods,” Rey said, adding that the project will incorporate recent developments in both GIScience and spatial statistics. “We also hope to develop an open-source tool for researchers to be able to flexibly define the neighborhoods they study and do replicable research.”

Media Contact


Tel: (951) 827-1287
E-mail: tess.eyrich@ucr.edu

Additional Contacts

Sergio Rey
Tel: (951) 827-2317
E-mail: sergio.rey@ucr.edu

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