Anton Boudreau Ninkov: revealing the information that lies hidden

Anton Boudreau Ninkov Credit: Amélie Philibert | Université de MontréalAnton Boudreau Ninkov Credit: Amélie Philibert | Université de Montréal

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Anton Boudreau Ninkov, a specialist in information visualization, has joined the School of Library and Information Sciences (EBSI).

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How do we make sense of the overwhelming amount of information that surrounds us? How can information visualization systems help us see data we weren’t even aware of? These questions fascinate Anton Boudreau Ninkov.

Born in Australia, raised in New York and educated in Ontario, Boudreau Ninkov seemed destined for a career in journalism, but as an undergraduate he witnessed the digitalization of information and the advent of social media.

Captivated by the technology behind those platforms, he started taking a closer interest and signed up for courses in computer science at the University of Ottawa and the Rochester Institute of Technology.

He went on to study information science and learned to design information visualization tools that reveal the hidden patterns behind colossal amounts of data. This winter he begins teaching at Université de Montréal.

For and against vaccination

Opinions about vaccines are divided. What groups of people are opposed to vaccination? Why are they opposed? What are their arguments? What are their answers?

In his thesis at the University of Western Ontario, Making Sense of Online Public Health Debates with Visual Analytics Systems, Boudreau Ninkov focused on these questions.

He began examining the debate over vaccination in 2015, before the COVID-19 pandemic. "At that time, there was already a lot of data, but it was still manageable," he recalled.

To study reactions to the measles-mumps-and-rubella (MMR), chicken pox, influenza and polio vaccines, he collected public data from English-language websites, including the associated metadata. He found that mothers of autistic children were among the most concerned.

He created a visualization tool that shows how different groups of people feel about vaccination. It could be used today for the debate about COVID-19 vaccination.

’It gives you new perspectives’

Bourdeau Ninkov enjoyed his three-year stint as a teaching assistant at UofWO. "A student can look at the same problem in a different light," he said. "It’s fascinating. It gives you new perspectives, and you can learn a lot from that."

Here at UdeM, he’ll be teaching a course on information storage and retrieval in the Winter 2023 semester. He hopes to return to his first love and teach information visualization in the future.

Bourdeau Ninkov has lived much of his life speaking English. And now, in Montreal, "when I try to practice speaking French, many people answer me in English," he observed.

That said, "it’s wonderful to be able to speak French at EBSI and at UdeM in general," he added. "Here, I can practice my French with my colleagues; it’s an opportunity I never had before!

"At first, I was a little scared. And then, I improved my French more in one month after coming to UdeM than in the last five years!"