Save the Bees: Final Project

By Almaha Almalki,  Autumn Jing,  Sean Soni, & Jingxian Zhang

Link to slides


We created an interactive US state map of foods that depend on bees.  As the user moves a slider, the year changes, and the map changes color to represent the amount of bee colonies left if bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) continues at its current rate.  Additionally, we display how food prices might change, given the amount of bee colonies remaining in a particular year.

We paired our interactive map with an informative display about CCD, as well as pre- and post-interaction surveys.  We then went to the Copley Farmer’s Market in Boston and tested our interactive with 11 subjects who were shopping at the farmer’s market.  Upon completion of the demo, each participant received a free packet of bee-friendly wildflower seeds, and was encouraged to donate or sign a petition to help save the bees.



We got our data from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), which publicizes data about bee colony numbers in the United States.  This data provided bee colony numbers by state over the last three years, as well as the estimated amount of money spent on bee pollination by state (the less wild bees, the more farmers must spend on pollination services).  We found that bee colony were rapidly and alarmingly decreasing.  In order to estimate the rate of decline of bee populations in each state, we calculated the average rate of decline in bee population for each state, and then used this average percent decrease to extrapolate over the entire period of our demonstration.  It should be noted that this is a rough estimate, and obviously other factors will influence bee population, and decline is unlikely to be by the same percentage amount every year.  Thus, we were careful to tell our participants that this data was calculated as if bee populations were to keep declining at the current rate.

While the colony decline calculation was relatively straightforward, we had more difficulty calculating the increase in food costs.  After much research on projected costs, we found no academic work that contained the data we were seeking.  Thus, we decided to extrapolate a prediction based on the dollar amount of bee pollination services used.  We found that the amount of money farmers spent on bee pollination services was increasing every year, and we thus calculated the average rate of increase for each food crop, and used these rates to predict the price increases.  This is a rough prediction at best, since other factors will play into food costs, and alternative pollination schemes are likely to emerge when food prices become high enough to make them economically viable.  Thus, we were careful to explain to our participants that these were projected prices, and the real prices could vary widely in the future.  

In order to build our demo, we calculated all of these rates of increase, placed this data into a spreadsheet, and then imported it into our Javascript application.  Aside from our simple calculations described above, there was no data cleaning to be done, as the data provided by the USDA was already in a very useable format.  By making simple calculations, we were able to turn this historical data into a story about the future.  By allowing participants to choose which fruits they personally enjoyed, and only have those appear on the map, we turned a large amount of impersonal data into a story about the participant, allowing them to become more engaged and relate to our story on a personal level.



While we were brainstorming about ideas for this project, we knew we wanted to tell a story using the bee data, and we knew we wanted to create a map.  We spent a long time considering different ways to tell this story, but ultimately decided that we wanted to target people shopping at farmer’s markets, since they were likely already predisposed to care about these issues.  With this target audience in mind, we decided to focus on the cost of produce, as this would be a very tangible thing to people who are in the process of spending money on produce.  With this audience in mind, we began to think about our goals.  Our ultimate goal was to help end CCD, and we came up with three concrete ways to make a contribution.  First, we would ask participants to sign a petition to ban neonicotinoid pesticides, second we would ask them to donate to Save the Bees, and finally we would give them bee-friendly wildflower seeds to plant.  We also hoped to have them think about CCD over the long-term, and share this information with their friends.

In order to gauge the effectiveness of our visualization, we implemented a pre-demo and post-demo survey on the iPad, and also asked a series of verbal questions.  The iPad survey asked the participants to rank three issues (CCD, climate change, and urbanization) in order of least threatening to most threatening to our food supply.  The verbal questions at the end of the demonstration asked how likely the participants were to buy organic, plant the seeds, and tell their friends about CCD.  

The iPad survey was not as successful as we would have liked, with the majority of participants not changing their answers and consistently ranking CCD second.  Some participants ranked CCD as the most threatening issue on the pre-demo survey, most likely in an attempt to placate us (one person told us as much).  Thus, when they did the same on the post-demo survey, it was difficult to gauge if their perception had changed.  Overall, we found that most people had strong pre-existing beliefs about these issues, and our audience was in general well-educated and knowledgeable about these issues (3 of our 11 participants happened to be MIT graduates).  We found that the mention of climate change in the survey tended to derail the conversation, as many participants had strong views about climate change.  In the future, we would alter this portion of the survey.

The verbal interview questions were much more effective, and here we got our greatest source of feedback.  The first person we spoke with was, by pure coincidence, an amateur beekeeper, and his feedback was especially valuable.  He loved our idea, but said he wanted to see more information on CCD available to our audience, beyond the facts we presented.  Indeed, this desire was expressed by others, so in future iterations we would bring along informative brochures we could hand out.  Other participants noted that they already shopped organic, some exclusively.  Almost all of them said they would plant the seeds, and most seemed excited about it.  When asked if they would share information about CCD with friends, most took it as a suggestion and nonchalantly acquiesced, as if we were making a request rather than an inquiry.  Overall, we received very positive feedback, and with a few tweaks, we believe this could be a viable project on a large scale that could make a significant difference in helping combat CCD.

Save the Bees!

By Sean Soni, Almaha Almalki, Jingxian Zhang, Autumn Jing

The data say that the number of bee colonies in the United States has been rapidly declining over the last decade.  We want to tell this story because bees are the main pollinator of many of our favorite fruits and vegetables, and without bees we could lose these foods forever.  Thus we have created an interactive display for farmer’s markets which shows customers how the price of their purchase would change as the number of bee colonies decline.  When customers check out, their receipt has a QR code that they can take to a kiosk and scan, with the promise of a free packet of seeds as in incentive.  At the kiosk, they can interact with a map of where their produce comes from.  As they slide a slider to manipulate the number of bee colonies, the density of the produce on the map increases or decreases, and the price they would have paid for today’s produce increases or decreases as well.  After the demo is complete, a free packet of local, bee-friendly seeds is dispensed, and the customer is presented with the opportunity to sign a petition to ban bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides, as well as donate to Save the Bees, an organization studying Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).  Our data is sourced from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, and we used historical changes in food prices due to the cost of beehive rental to extrapolate how food prices might change in the future.  Although this data is subjective, the exact numbers aren’t as important as the final number:  With zero bees, several fruits and vegetables will cease to be available, no matter how much one is willing to pay.
Our audience is any customer shopping at the farmer’s market.  We believe that these customers are already more aware about their food sources than the average consumer, and are more likely to support our cause.  In addition, implementing our demonstration at a farmer’s market rather than a grocery store allows us to target our message at people who are mainly buying produce, increasing its relevance.  We believe our method is effective because people are more likely to be engaged by the interactive nature of our display, and giving out free seeds encourages people to reciprocate with their support.  Our goals are to help end CCD by raising money to research and prevent this disorder, as well as to garner enough signatures for a petition to Congress to ban neonicotinoid pesticides, which scientists believe are a major contributor to CCD.

Choose Your Own BMW

By Nikki Waghani, Sean Soni, Sharlene Chiu, Margaret Yu

The data say that different cars get vastly different mileage, and mileage also varies from highway to city driving.  We want to tell this story because we want to educate consumers on the difference between cars and styles of driving when it comes to gas mileage.  Thus we have created a choose your own adventure game where the choice of car at the onset affects how the scenarios play out, with an emphasis on gas mileage, and a goal of acquiring “likes” along the way.  Our audience is specifically young professionals who are thinking about buying a BMW.  We plan to place our game in a kiosk in BMW dealerships.  Our goals are to educate consumers about their choices, and encourage consumers to buy more fuel-efficient cars in order to help BMW meet government requirements regarding the average fuel efficiency of their fleet.  

Our data is sourced from the 2016 information at, and is the result of testing done by the EPA as well as by vehicle manufacturers with oversight from the EPA.  Using this data, we’ve designed a quick, easy, and fun way for someone entering a dealership to learn about the brand’s cars while figuring out what might best suit their needs. The goal is not to sell a particular car – this would be impossible as each person’s needs are very different – we will, however, help them learn the differences between a brand’s numerous cars without feeling overwhelmed.  In order to encourage the customer to play multiple rounds of this game with different cars, our kiosk will print out a coupon for free add-ons (such as window tint or undercoating) each time the game is played.  By playing multiple rounds of this game, the customer will get a feel for how much money they can save by buying a more fuel-efficient electric or hybrid car, and what some of the potential tradeoffs may be.  Our game also integrates educational facts into the game, such as the fact that fuel economy is better on the highway than in the city, and going above 60mph on the highway reduces fuel economy.  This game is much more effective than simply presenting fuel economy data, as it allows the consumer to interact with the data rather than just read it.

Float Away with Hubway

By Erick Friis, Sam Resnick, and Sean Soni

The data say that Hubway is often used for short rides of a few miles or less.  We want to tell this story because we think people don’t realize that taking these short trips can prevent CO2 emissions and have a meaningful impact on climate change.  Our audience is college students, specifically MIT students, and as such we have designed our data sculpture around MIT.  We want to encourage MIT students to use Hubway instead of calling an Uber or Lyft.  We used the Hubway dataset to look at a few of the most popular Hubway destinations from MIT, and then calculated the mileage between these points.  We then calculated the volume of CO2 that a Hubway rider would save by not taking a car on this trip.  We then filled giant balloons with helium to represent CO2.  The larger the balloon, the more CO2 saved by taking Hubway.  Each balloon was tied to its respective route on a giant map of Boston.  What makes our treatment so effective is that we do not scale the numbers.  If a Hubway trip saves a cubic meter of CO2, its balloon will have a volume of a cubic meter.  In this way, our audience can see that even small trips can have a sizeable impact, and they can fully appreciate the size of that impact.  Audience engagement is often a key aspect of ensuring an audience remembers your message, so we decided to add an interactive aspect to our data sculpture.  We envision our demo being deployed at a booth where it is accessible to MIT students, and we would like to make it memorable and have it generate discussion.  Thus, we would ask students what a popular Uber route they take might be.  We would then calculate how much CO2 they could save by taking a Hubway instead.  If they agree to try out Hubway, we will inflate a giant balloon with that amount of CO2.  This is a light-hearted way to encourage students to use Hubway, and has the added benefit of promoting discussion among any students who happen to inquire about the balloon.

Hubway: Connecting College Campuses in the Boston/Cambridge Area

(Download full-size graphic on Dropbox)

By Tricia Shi, Sean Soni, Kimberly Yu, Margaret Yu

The data say that Hubway is often used to get from one college campus to another.  We want to tell this story because we believe that connecting college campuses promotes the exchange of knowledge and culture.  We also want to encourage people to bike, as there are positive environmental effects, and Cambridge and Boston are consistently ranked as top cities to bike in.

We pulled ride information from the public Hubway dataset for hundreds of thousands of Hubway rides in the Boston/Cambridge area from 2011 to 2013.  We then identified stations located on various college campuses and grouped them by campus.  After deciding to focus on 5 of the colleges in the immediate Boston/Cambridge area with on-campus Hubway stations – Harvard, MIT, Emerson, Northeastern, and Boston University – we examined traffic flow patterns between these campuses.

Our infographic contains several graphs, the first of which is a chord diagram. Our primary purpose was to show the relative flow of traffic among all five campuses, and a chord diagram works nicely for this, as it allows the reader to visualize the amount of traffic.  This chart contributes to our primary message by showing that people around MIT use Hubway significantly more than any other campus in the area.  We used MIT school colors to show MIT’s flow, and made the colors of other schools almost grayscale because a common problem with a chord diagram is that the colors are not distributed fairly.

The bottom bike wheel shows that a good portion of people use Hubway outside of school or work hours, which may encourage others to do the same.  We follow this with two simple pictogram charts. The first shows that MIT is the most popular campus as a Hubway destination, and the second provides some ideas about where a potential cyclist may bike to from a college campus. The radial bar graph shows the most popular destinations from MIT, which are possibly of interest to the reader.  Finally, the last graphic shows some routes that have never been taken, and dares the bold to try something new.

Sean Soni’s Data Log

  • 10:30 AM – Added course staff emails and phone numbers to 6.042 staff website
  • 11:00 AM – Uploaded staff personal websites to 6.042 student website
  • 1:15 PM – submitted form to 6.03 staff indicating schedule
  • 1:30 PM – added PE course into my Google Calendar
  • 2:00 PM – created neighborhoods on SimCity
  • 3:30 PM – entered credit card information into Eat24 for food delivery
  • 5:45 PM – wrote this blog post
  • 6:15 PM – emailed professor to ask about adding category for assignment
  • 6:45 PM – placed trade on Robinhood
  • 8:30 PM – edited more staff info on 6.042 website
  • 9:45 PM – edited htaccess file for 6.042 repo
  • 10:30 PM – submitted this blog post

The Education Gap

With the recent confirmation of Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary, equal access to education for everyone is once again a hot topic.  This New York Times article from April 29, 2016 addressed the issue.

Although there were several graphics in this article, this one stood out the most to me.  This graph shows a student’s parents’ socioeconomic status on the x-axis, and their relative academic achievement levels on the y-axis.  The size of the dots represent the size of a racial group within a school district, and the color represents the specific racial group.  It is striking how white children seem to outscore minorities in a consistent fashion.  However, this data fails to control for geographical differences, or any other potential confounding variables.  Maybe white students tend to live in richer areas, which provide better education?

The next graphic in the article quickly debunks this idea.  Each line segment corresponds to a school district, which is more obvious in the interactive graphic when you mouseover a line segment and the district is displayed.  Even within a school district, white children consistently outperform their minority counterparts.

So why is this?  The article does not attempt to elevate any one explanation.  The intended audience is not clear, although the NYT does tend to gravitate towards more educated, liberal readers.  The goal does not seem to be to convince the reader to adopt one political position or the other, or even to explain the data.  Instead, it simply presents it.  By giving a clear, easily digestible picture of the data, the article allows the reader to make their own conclusions.  Whether this is desirable, or even responsible, is another question altogether.  However, it is clear that this is enough data to make anyone think about the underlying issues, and thus I believe the creator has succeeded in drawing attention to the issue, which was no doubt his original intention.  It is up to the reader to figure out why this phenomenon exists, and it is up to our generation to correct it, so equal opportunity is available for all.

Sean Soni