Ubuntu has a lot of nice features that are useful for desktop computing, and in particular, research. The reason being that Ubuntu has one of the more robust package managers available, and has just about any package one would one.
One complaint many people have about the traditional Redhat/CentOS approach is that there isn’t enough package support when it comes time to take advantage of new features in packages. Ubuntu is up to date on most of the packages it supports, and offers bleeding edge functionality.
For this reason it makes a great desktop distribution, full of driver support, graphics, usability, reliability, and community support.