ANU Supercomputer Facility - Annual Report 1997

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 ANUSF VizLab was the first visualization laboratory established in Australia. 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. Currently we have 65 active user accounts on the lab machines.

The main equipment in the VizLab are a Silicon Graphics Onyx Reality Engine (RE2) workstation and a Silicon Graphics Onyx Indigo2 High Impact workstation. The Indigo2 High Impact machine is supplemented with a Ciprico disk array and a digital video I/O system. A combination of commercial, public domain and home grown software is used. The main commercial graphics pakages used are the AVS (Advanced Visual Systems) for general scientific visualization (the VizLab continues to organize a campus-wide license for the AVS visualization software), Houdini for high quality modelling and animation and Illusion for video compilation and recording.

New Developments

The VizLab was relocated to level four of the Huxley Building late in the 1997. The new laboratory includes a small machine room, two offices for the visualization programmers, space for the "Wedge" virtual reality environment, a video workstation and a general graphics workstation.

The VizLab video system was upgraded in 1997 and is now able to write and read uncompressed digital video in realtime. A commercial software package, Illusion, is used for composing and editing video footage. This has allowed us to quickly make more extensive and generally more professional looking video footage. In the future we hope to add an audio capacity to the system so narration can be added to researchers visualizations on-site.

A second programmer, Stuart Ramsden (on secondment from the Australian Centre for Arts and Technology) joined Drew Whitehouse in October 1997. This has allowed Mr Whitehouse to concentrate on the development of the Wedge virtual environment which should be operational early in 1998.

Activities and Services Provided

Seminars and courses given by VizLab staff are listed elsewhere in this report. Visualization and consultation support was provided for a wide range of ANU schools including RSES, RSPhysSE, Department of Physics, Astrophysical Theory Centre, JCSMR, Department of Chemistry, Department of Applied Mathematics and ACAT. The following is a description of some of the larger projects undertaken in 1997.

The biological imaging work described in last years annual report (with Sandow et al) was completed in the first few months of the year. A paper was presented on this work at the annual Microscopy Workshop held by the ANU Electron Microscopy Unit in March by Mr Whitehouse. Due in part to the success of the project (a paper was published in the Journal of Anatomy), the JCSMR has since made a significant investment in microscopy and computer graphics hardware to continue working on biological imaging and 3D reconstruction techniques.

An extensive scientific visualization of the results of Dr Shin-Ho Chung et. al. illustrating the permeation of ions through membrane channels was completed. The work was subsequently shown in seminars given by Dr Chung in Australia and the United States. This research is detailed in the Appendix of this report.

A video was made for Dr Shoba Ranganathan of JCSMR entitled Visualisation of Surface Electrostatic Potentials of the LGIC Extracellular Pentamer Models. This research is detailed in the Appendix of this report.

A visualization and curvature analysis of a termite nest was produced for Dr Robert Corkery, of the Department of Applied Mathematics, RSPhysSE. It was noted that a small sample of a termite nest had a strikingly similar shape to certain stochastic minimal surfaces. The nest sample was visualized and the curvature calculated. Visual results are online at

An animation of ANU logo was made for the ANU Conference Service Business Manager's Group, as part of a video promoting ANU's conference facilities.

The new video system was used heavily for the recording the Australian Centre for Art and Technology's (ACAT) student's semester projects. The ACAT usage is reported on in the Appendix to this report.

The "Wedge" virtual reality theatre is a joint development by the Plasma Research Laboratory, RSPhysSE, and ANUSF initiated by Dr Rod Boswell of the Plasma Research Laboratory, RSPhysSE and Dr Henry Gardner. Together with Mr Whitehouse, they trialed hardware components and Mr Whitehouse developed a software interface for the theatre. A successful major equipment grant to the Plasma Research Laboratory enabled equipment to be purchased towards the end of 1997 with support from ANUSF and other funds. The Wedge is expected to be operational early in 1998.

ANU Supercomputer Facility - Home Page | Contact us
The Australian National University