WCTE 2010 Mini-Recap

Traveling to summer conferences is always fun. This is especially true if it is held in an Italian resort town. This year, the bi-annual World Conference of Timber Engineering was held at the end of June in Riva del Garda at the beautiful Garda Lake in northern Italy.

This conference is always a great venue to meet people who build with wood or do research in wood. Topics are mostly centered around structural issues but there is typically also a good size architectural component. If you missed this year’s conference but want to stay in the loop on what’s happening in structural and architectural design with wood, feel free to browse the official website (while it is up) – or simply read on and enjoy a quick visual overview.

The first visualization below is a collection of the conference topics as a Wordle. I always find it very enlightening when I have a large amount of textual data to simply copy the raw text and then dump it into the Wordle web site. Since the algorithm behind this service sizes words by their frequency, it is quickly possible to get a feeling of the overall tendencies.

In this case, I copied the presentation schedule, which contained not only the titles but also authors’ names – the result is shown below (common words, numbers and general terms like “wood” have been removed). While it makes sense for an engineering conference that “structural performance” is a central topic, themes like “analysis, composite, glulam, shear [likely as in ‘shear walls’], strength” and the always popular “joints and connections” were strong topics. Open the image to its full size to drill deeper into the “fine-print”.

An interactive version is here.

As with any worldwide conference, it is interesting to see where participants came from. As you can see in the two maps below, there was an dominance of European participants – clearly also due to the proximity to the location. Other strong groups came from USA & Canada and Australia & New Zealand. What really surprised me – especially in times of very tight travel budgets – was the strong showing from Japan. The largest single country group was from Japan!

This map drills a bit deeper into where people came from in Europe.

You can explore the raw data here.

So what can we read out of these maps? Due to the nature of the conference audience, the countries highlighted above likely are strong participants in building with wood and conducting research in structural uses of wood. Of course, this is affected also by travel funds availability and other factors but it may serve as an indicator.

One can be tempted now to assume that wood research and construction activities happen mainly in countries that have a large forest resource. To check this assumption, I pulled out the FAO’s (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) forest distribution map (shown below). This comparison now shows that South America, Africa and especially Russia were underrepresented at the conference relative to their forest resources. I am sure the reasons for this are varied and can not only be simplified to “economics” but it is an interesting comparison, nevertheless.

The next WCTE is scheduled for 2012 and will take place in Auckland, Australia. You can already visit their website at http://www.wcte2012.com. See you there!

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