University Park, Pennsylvania – This summer, the Penn State Department of Geography put the finishing touches on a new GeoGraphics Lab, a multimedia mapping lab located on the first floor of the Walker Building in University Park. The lab was designed as a dedicated space for mapping, production and research.
The lab’s director, Anthony Robinson, said the lab provides students and faculty with opportunities for innovation and hands-on map-making experience with access to tools such as a large-format printer, a thermal imaging machine for tactile maps and 3D printing capabilities.
“I hope the lab can help students and faculty in geography make maps that make a difference,” said Robinson, an associate professor of geography who runs online spatial education programs. “It could mean we’re developing the latest in technology.” In terms of cartography, or it could mean that we tell stories that help expand the impact of advances in the geographic sciences. It’s important to have a space where students and faculty can gather and exchange ideas, design problems, gain inspiration and refine their work.”
The idea for the lab arose out of Robinson’s long-term vision to create a collaborative space for individuals passionate about maps. After his sabbatical in 2021, Robinson said he seized the opportunity to set up the lab. The namesake laboratory is the original Deasy GeoGraphics Laboratory, an area where mapping research and production took place in the 1990s.
Harrison Cole, who was Robinson’s doctoral student and former postdoctoral researcher, helped Robinson start up the lab in July 2022.
“I know I could have benefited from the lab as a graduate student, and I am delighted that current students will now have the tools they need to do truly interesting and extraordinary work,” Cole said. “There are a lot of possibilities for directions a lab can take things in and areas of expertise they can help develop.”
Student participation is a vital aspect of the GeoGraphics Lab. As part of the Gould Center for Geographic Education and Communication, the lab engages undergraduate and graduate students in ongoing mapping projects.
Undergraduate Nate Sherock spent the summer working as a cartographic intern updating and designing maps and figures for the latest edition of Professor Cynthia Brewer’s book, Designing Better Maps. Students and faculty are also installing physical maps to display in the Walker Building. In addition, students working on cartographic research can take advantage of the lab’s computational and production resources including equipment for biometric user experience or user interface analysis – online mapping eye-tracking software.
Looking to the future, Robinson said he envisions the lab building a solid reputation for producing excellent maps and making significant advances in cartographic research.
“I want to make sure we have a variety of projects that students and faculty can get involved with,” said Robinson. “I also hope the lab becomes one of the many reasons why undergraduates choose geography as a major. On a more general level, I want the lab to help people tell stories about people and the environment that are better conveyed through creative cartographic design.
The GeoGraphics Lab is open to the Penn State community as well as to individuals outside the university who express interest. The lab team, which includes graduate students Tim Brisby, Lilly Houtman and Harman Singh, brings a variety of expertise to meet different project requirements.
“If someone needs some kind of service, whether it’s printing a poster, designing a map from the ground up, or revising an old map, they can call the lab with their requests,” Cole said.
Robinson said his goal is that by empowering students and faculty and providing state-of-the-art resources, the lab will have a lasting impact on the field of geography and beyond.