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:

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.

An Indigo2 High Impact system was loan by Silicon Graphics Inc. as part of the Australian Cooperative Supercomputer Facility purchase and will be used to build a new upgraded video recording and editing facility to replace the old Sony News (68020 based) workstations. The goal of the system will be to provide a high quality desktop video production system in 1996.

The Laboratory continues to organise 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 as well as the Research Data Network Cooperative Research Centre. This software has been used extensively for projects in chemistry, earth sciences and astrophysics.

As well as numerous consultations and demonstrations, nine videotapes were made for users in RSES, RSPhysSE, CRES and JCSMR during the year. Video animation sequences of MRI and confocal microscope volume data sets were also produced for a 14 episode educational television series titled 'Models of the Human Brain: A Multi-disciplinary Perspective' which aired on SBS during 1995.

In collaboration with The Australian Centre for Arts and Technology, a strictly non-commercial license for the high end animation software "Side Effects - Prisms" was acquired. The software is a very flexible and ideally suited to producing complex scientific visualization as it very open ended and fully scriptable. The software is in heavy use by ACAT graduate students who find the Onyx RE2 necessary for complex animation development. With the experience gained on the PRISMS system the students will be ideally prepared for employment in Australia's burgeoning feature film, broadcast and advertising industries. Other software installed in the visualization laboratory includes Amazon Paint and Scian.

Mr Whitehouse also gave guidance and support to Ms Dena Hyman who worked in CRES during the year supported by Quality Funds provided to CRES and ANUSF to support developing software modules to interpret data from climate models. A joint paper was published on this work.

During the last few years, 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. Nevertheless, some work on the Biological Imaging Research and Development Initiative continued when time was available in 1995. This initiative which was developed in conjunction with staff in RSC, JCSMR, RSPhysSE and RSBS aims to develop software for extracting and displaying 3-dimensional information from images obtained from the University's electron microscopes. Progress has been hampered by lack of staff.