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. 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 47 active users who have access. The Visualization Laboratory houses the following equipment:


The Laboratory video system has been transformed during 1996. The old Sony workstation based system, loaned jointly to the Visualization Laboratory and CSIRO Division of Information Technology by the National Science and Technology Centre has been mostly superseded. The new system, an Indigo2 High Impact system loaned to the Laboratory by Silicon Graphics Inc. as part of the Australian Cooperative Supercomputer Facility purchase, has been installed and pending installation of a Ciprico high speed disk array, should become operational in early 1997. In the interim a small script based system was written that allowed the new system to be used in a limited capacity to record single frame images in the same way as was done on the older system. This allowed users to record frames at approximately 1-2 seconds/frame, down from 30-60 seconds/frame, a significant improvement. The new system will be batch realtime - recording 2-3 second chunks of realtime video at a time to the laserdisk, and will be driven through the "AVID Illusion" software.

The Laboratory continues to organise a campus-wide license for the AVS visualization system which was installed on the Silicon Graphics Onyx, Impact and Power Challenge machines, machines in the Department of Computer Science, RSES, MSSSO, RSPhysSE, Maths 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, twenty-four videotapes and/or movies were made for users in RSES, RSC, RSPhysSE, ACAT, CRES and JCSMR during the year. The animations made for Dr John Taylor (CRES) were part of a multi-media World Wide Web paper (subsequently presented and published in the "Ecopolitics-X" proceedings) titled "An Analysis and Visualization of the Risk Associated with the Potential Failure of Indonesian Nuclear Reactors". The online paper was read by a large number of people (7766 hits to date) throughout the world and reference was made to it in numerous popular media items in Australia and the South East Asian region.

The "Side Effects - Prisms" software has been upgraded to the newer "Houdini" system. This software is in heavy use by The Australian Centre for Arts and Technology (ACAT) graduate students and is being used for teaching courses in Digital Animation. The Laboratory was used for recording all the undergraduate and graduate animations for the end of year projects in the second semester and was acknowledged frequently in the well attended public performance night featuring the best of the student animations. The new, faster, recording system was critical in recording of this work which amounted to approximately one hour and 20 minutes of animation (120 000 frames). Approximately 400 hours of Power Challenge CPU time was spent rendering frames.

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 1996. This has now resulted in a graphical program to aid the fast manual alignment of serial section images. This software coupled with the free IMOD package from the Boulder Laboratory for 3-Dimensional Fine Structure was used in a study of the specialised sympathetic neuroeffector associations in rat iris arterioles by Shaun Sandow (JCSMR). Richard Reina (BOZO) used the software to reconstruct a turtle's salt gland from serial sections imaged using a light microscope.

In addition, a graphical user interface (GUI) and display software was written for Dr Edie Sevick (RSC) for the interactive analysis and animation of clay particle simulation results.

In 1997 and beyond, the Visualization Laboratory plans to begin investigating the usefulness of Virtual Reality systems as a tool for ANU researchers. While this area has been tracked for a number of years, until now it has been felt that this was an area of research in itself, rather than a tool that could be reasonably applied to assist researchers understand their data. It is felt that the time is now ripe to begin the practical investigation of the applicability of VR systems.