Dr. Branting Brings GIS Innovation to UCF

scott branting - GISAssistant professor of anthropology, Scott Branting, Ph.D., is one of the many new faulty starting here at UCF. Professor Branting holds a B.A. from Wheaton College in archaeology, one M.A. from the University of Chicago in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, an Advanced Graduate Certificate in Geographic Information Science (GIS) and another M.A. from the University at Buffalo in geography, and a Ph.D. in anthropology within the sub-field of archaeology from the University at Buffalo as well.

He is one of five co-directors of the Syrian Heritage Initiative: a collaborative agreement between the American Schools of Oriental Research and the US Department of State, as well as the Director of the Kerkenes Dağ Archaeological Project in central Turkey.

During the past year, Professor Branting was the Director of Geospatial Initiatives for the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) working on the Syrian Heritage Initiative collaborative agreement. The project was designed to monitor and eventually help mitigate and, where possible, assist in repairing damage to cultural heritage monuments, sites, and infrastructure in Syria and Islamic State controlled portions Iraq.

This project is ongoing and they are currently setting up the GIS facilities and servers to continue to undertake portions of this work at UCF together with the help of UCF students, colleagues, and outside partners. Branting states that “one aspect of our vision is to eventually develop a UCF Pegasus satellite to help monitor cultural heritage at risk within disaster and conflict situations around the world as well as support other UCF earth research.”

Branting is an active archaeologist who directs a field project at the site of Kerkenes Dağ in central Turkey. He leads an interdisciplinary and multi-institutional team that is in the progress of exploring an enormous ancient city dating to ca. 620-550 BC. Branting claims that “this buried city is roughly the same size as the area of all the buildings, parking lots and garages, stadiums, and other facilities that comprise the main UCF campus.”

Branting and his team has worked over the past two and a half decades to reveal the plan of the buildings in this buried city using geophysical instruments, aerial photography, and GPS. They have used, and in some cases pioneered, agent-based pedestrian simulations and other modeling and imitation techniques, to give us better ideas of how the inhabitants once used the city and this knowledge might help us better plan cities of the future. Professor Branting states that he is “…very excited to find ways to incorporate UCF students, colleagues, and partners into these international collaborative efforts, and I am working on developing a UCF study abroad program at the site.”

Professor Branting shared more about why he chose UCF and what we can expect from the GIS cluster.

What attracted you to UCF?

It was definitely the creativity and innovation. In both of the projects I am involved in as well as other projects in the past, those are central elements. I like pushing boundaries and trying out new things with spatial technology and UCF seems very open to doing that type of research with their exciting vibrant atmosphere. UCF is also very close to space coast and there are synergies between the space coast and the things they do and UCF and the things they want to do with satellites.

What do you think you are going to bring to UCF?

The GIS cluster is already in progress and faculty, staff and students are working on it quite successfully. The 3 new hires are going to expand the cluster; we can bring in additional projects that can complement other projects that are already existing at UCF while bringing in new and more publicity for certain projects.

I also want to reach out to different departments and colleges within UCF to find ways that we can bring the GIS cluster together and develop it in a way so we can take it beyond where it has ever gone at other universities. I think UCF is very well positioned to get GIS going to bigger and better things. Being so close to launch sites and with it being so close to simulation and modeling groups that is here in Orlando, there is an excellent convergence of the sort of technologies that have expanded because of GIS.

Are there any projects you are looking forward to getting started on?

One project I am very interested in is potentially developing a satellite. That is 1 big issue they have run into with the Syria project; that it is very difficult to get images because there aren’t that many satellite’s up there and people higher up in the government, like the military, have access and permission to task the satellites to take images that they need. If we need to find out what has or is happening at an archeological site that might be a rather low priority to those existing satellites. But if we had a Pegasus satellite we could send it over to a particular place and we could take images and get feedback immediately.

What motivates you?

I really enjoy pushing the boundaries of what is possible within my research areas. Innovation and creativity as well as complex problem solving are all very exciting to me. I’m often also reminded of Daniel Burnham’s quote to “make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” Sometimes by scaling up our thinking we can achieve what we think is impossible.

What advice can you give to future generations of GIS students?

GIS, and the broader range of geospatial technologies and data associated with it, are critical components of our world today and into the future.  So many problems that the world faces contain explicitly spatial components to their solutions.  A basic, or more advanced, understanding gained from GIS courses can give students the tools to better explore and solve many of the world’s problems.

What do you do for fun?
I enjoy spending time with my family and friends.  I’m also a fan of several sports and we really enjoyed attending a recent UCF football game. Go Knights!

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