Scientists open their eyes
to visualization's potential
Posted June 3, 2009
Science and engineering, long reliant on abstract symbols, graphs and models to represent the real world, can now also step through the looking glass.
Computers can construct and display mirror images of increasingly detailed pieces of nature in action, generating visual understanding that can rival observation, all in a virtual world where the discoveries seem very real. But there is a caveat. As the saying goes, seeing is believing, so scientists must take extra care to remember that all simulations include some degree of error and uncertainty.
Visualization uses images to promote understanding and communication. From the scout for a prehistoric hunting party scratching a herd's location in the dirt to a team of astrophysicists animating a star’s explosion in 3-D, expressing abstract ideas through visual metaphors seems innately human.
“I’m certainly biased, but my view is that visualization is really part of the thinking process,” says Chris Johnson, director of the Scientific Computing and Imaging (SCI) Institute at the University of Utah. ’We are very visual creatures. More than half our brains are used for some sort of image processing. When I think of visualization, I really think of visual data analysis or visual thinking.”
Golden Age of Scientific Visualization|
Computer scientist Chris Johnson narrates this overview. This and other visualizations illustrating this article were among those selected as favorites during a screening night at 2008's SciDAC meeting in Seattle. Argonne National Laboratory’s Mike Papka and Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Jim Ahrens organized the event, which will be held again in June at SciDAC ’09 in San Diego.
(University of Utah/VACET)