Scientific Visualization Laboratory

Scientific visualization is the generic name given to techniques that use images and animations to interpret scientific data. Although not restricted to supercomputing applications, the field has largely been driven by the difficulty of interpreting the enormous amounts of data produced by many supercomputer applications. Such data are often not only massive but multi-dimensional and time dependent and so conventional graphics techniques are often completely inadequate.

The Facility's initiative in scientific visualization began in 1990 with the appointment of a Visualization Programmer. The main aim of the Visualization Laboratory is to provide software support and general visualization expertise and advice to users of advanced computers rather than as an alternative to individual desktop workstations. For the most demanding work a high end visualization workstation is provided. The initial major visualization tool, a Silicon Graphics VGX workstation, has been heavily used by over 36 registered users. In 1994, it was replaced by a Silicon Graphics Onyx Reality Engine with two processors and 256 Mbytes of memory. In many cases researchers have used the Visualization Laboratory's facilities to help decide upon the optimum solution to their visualization requirements before purchasing personal and departmental systems.

The Visualization Laboratory in the Leonard Huxley Building is accessible at all hours to approved users through the CARDAX security system. Currently there are 23 active users who have access. The Visualization Laboratory houses the following equipment:

* a Silicon Graphics 4D/210 workstation with the VGX graphics option
* a Silicon Graphics Onyx Reality Engine workstation
* a DEC 5000/240 workstation with PXG turbo graphics
* a Sony laser-disk system for storing and playing back images
* a Chromatek scan converter

In addition, a large amount of video equipment is generously on loan jointly to the Visualization Laboratory and CSIRO Division of Information Technology by the National Science and Technology Centre. This equipment is housed in the Laboratory and together with the above and other equipment has enabled the production of high-quality video tapes displaying data obtained through supercomputer simulations or from experiments.

During 1994 the demand for visualization services was greater than can be met by a single Visualization Programmer whose time has become increasingly fragmented between investigating new products, helping users, making video tapes and education. As well as numerous consultations and demonstrations, eight videotapes were made for users in RSES, RSPhysSE, CRES and DCS during the year.

The Laboratory continues to organize a campus-wide license for the AVS visualization system which was installed on the Silicon Graphics, DEC and HP735 workstations, the CM-5 front-end and machines in the Department of Computer Science, RSES, MSSSO, RSPhysSE and ANUSF. This software has been used extensively for projects in chemistry, earth sciences and astrophysics and was upgraded in 1994.

The MSI ChemistryViewer software is installed on the DEC AVS system and used extensively by staff from the Research School of Chemistry and as part of the collaborative project with Fujitsu.

Other software installed in the visualization laboratory includes Explorer 2.2 from Silicon Graphics and Scian.

Dr Kahn and Mr Whitehouse completed a new video tape illustrating the work of several ANU researchers and highlighting advanced computing at ANU. Copies are available upon request to the ANUSF.

An image made for Dr Mikael Persson, RSPhysSE was chosen as a cover illustration of the International Journal of Bifurcation and Chaos, Number 5 1993.

Mr Whitehouse also contributed images to the exhibition at the Australian National Gallery by artist Stuart Ramsden of ACAT, institute of the Arts.

A major strategic proposal to develop software and expertise for the support of the University's biological science communtity over a three year period was put forward by Mr Whitehouse with the support of Dr N Dixon (RSC), Ms C Gillespie (EM/Histology/FACS, JCMSR), Dr J Howard (RSPhysSE), Prof S Redman (Division Neuroscience, JCMSR) and Dr S Stowe (Electron Microscopy Unit, RSBS). The proposal, entitled, Biological Imaging Research and Development Initiative (BIRDI) was that a group be formed for this purpose, with the main focus being the development of software for extracting and displaying 3-dimensional information from images acquired from the University's microscopes. The ANU has significant investment in microscopy facilities and there is a definite need for associated computer analysis to fully utilize the wealth of data gathered. The inter-disciplinary nature of the task would bring together expertise from the ANU's high performance computing and biological science communities. Unfortunately this proposal was not successful in 1994.