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Science Visualization - Seeing the Unseen

2008/12/24

On 3/23/2007, the famous scientific journal "Cell" reported on the results of Dr. Ann-shyn Chiang of National Tsing Hua University’s Brain Research Center. Dr. Chiang’s team used the Drosophila fruit fly as their research subject to uncover the secrets of how olfactory signals are processed in the brain. Using the visualization images generated by their research, the signal’s path became easily identifiable. Because of scientific visualization, the once hidden path of travel of the signal now comes alive as another page is turned on new developments in the life sciences!

Scientific visualization is used to display computational data in new and exciting ways! Visualization is a wonderful tool for shedding light on what was once unknown. There are certain types of visualization that that NCHC can do better than commercial industry, therefore, the NCHC utilizes its vast experience in visualization to help local industry.

What Is Science Visualization and What Is Its Purpose?

Science visualization can be likened unto what we see around us in our daily lives. To put it simply, scientific visualization is used to convert the abstract into something that can be easily seen and understood. At the office, for example, computer graphics, pie charts, and the like are used to illustrate numerical data. These are all examples of data visualization. Science visualization is the same thing, only the information displayed is scientific in nature and might include computer modeling results or digital images derived from scientific or medical instruments. Using scientific visualization, we can easily and thoughtfully illustrate research results and even convert things such as medical scans into 3D images that allow great insight into the functions of the human brain!

Through visualization, researchers are able to gain a deeper perspective on their data and can more clearly see the progress of their research. The goal of scientific visualization is to establish a type of interface that is based on a human’s perspective. This will help researchers to be able to clearly see the results of the computational analysis.

NCHC's Science Visualization Experience

Since its establishment in 1991, the NCHC has put great emphasis on the benefits of scientific visualization. It has done this with the establishment of its own Visualization and Interactive Media Lab (VIML). Early projects that the NCHC’s VIML developed include a car crash simulation. This was a project contracted by local industry in order to improve the crash- worthiness of their automobile. For this visualization, the NCHC’s supercomputers were used to model a car crashing into a barrier at varying speeds between 40~60 kilometers per hour. The data collected was then used to calculate and visualize the degree of deformation the automobile experienced during each of the crashes. After Taiwan’s 921 earthquake, the NCHC also collaborated with the Taiwan’s reconstruction committee to help organize data for reconstruction. The project included the NCHC developing several geographic information system (GIS)-based engineering simulations and visualizations.

Currently, the NCHC’s VIML is working on methods to display measurement data. Some examples include Dr. Ann-shyn Chiang's Drosophila fruit fly brain research, asthma patient care from Chang Gung Hospital, the display of the nervous system and cancerous tumors from Taiwan University Hospital, and the 3D Digital Virtual Mouse project from the NCHC’s sister research center, the National Laboratory Animal Center (NLAC). Using scientific visualization, computational data can be transformed into 3D simulations that allow researchers to clearly see what was hidden before.

NCHC's Technical Expertise in Science Visualization

If you have a vast amount of data and don't know how to best visualize it, the NCHC can help! Large-scale data modeling is more than what casual hardware can handle. As an example, a single medical image from the Drosophila fruit fly brain project can take several hours or even several days to render. Using the NCHC's extensive computing hardware, software and know-how, we can far exceed the capability of the average visualization provider. The NCHC’s VIML’s value lies in its ability to enable near real time interaction with a vast amount of data.

The main difference between the visualization services the NCHC offers and those offered by other visualization providers is that more than 70% of the software we use is developed in-house. Recently, our VIML team modularized its visualization software programs, thus, allowing us to put together customized solutions based on your specific needs. Developing our own software allows us to have complete control over our products and services and you can be assured that we have the expertise to solve any and all of your problems.

What's Next: Information Visualization.

Recently, scientists have begun to tackle the problem of how to process the vast amount of data floating around today. The solution is Information Visualization. From this vast amount of data, researchers want to find the root cause of problems as well as their solutions. But due to the sheer size of the amount of data available, researchers don't know where to start. Ultimately, their goal is to uncover useful information from this vast amount of data. The NCHC strives to do this as well.

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