Visualization: Future Technology and Practices for Computational Science and Engineering

Visualization: Future Technology and Practices for Computational Science and Engineering

Joanna Leng (Visual Conclusions, UK), Theresa-Marie Rhyne (Visualization Consultant, USA) and Wes Sharrock (University of Manchester, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-116-0.ch016
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This chapter focuses on state of the art at the intersection of visualization and CSE. From understanding current trends it looks to future applications for these technologies. Some background is provided into visualization and its relation with CSE as well as with software and hardware frameworks that visualization systems depend on. Important emerging research areas are identified, including: interactive simulation and computational steering; collaborative, remote visualization and visualization services; VR technologies for visualization; user experience and assessment; teaching and serious gaming; communicating science to the public; ultra-scale visualization; and computational aesthetics. This should present the readers with real possibilities for CSE no matter what their disciplinary background.
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Visualization is a technology that provides pictorial descriptions of results from computations and simulations and as such it is a vital component of CSE. It is a fairly mature technology providing not only an ever widening set of presentational techniques but also, among other things, a framework for visualization systems that can be extended to remote/distributed visualization services, techniques for handling and rendering large data and the more efficient exploitation of high performance computing (HPC). Though visualization is very prominent in Computational Science and Engineering (CSE) it can be applied to many other areas such as data mining and informatics. Just as computational science is divided into separate communities interested in specific application areas or mathematical/programming approaches so too is visualization.

This chapter focuses on the general area of visualization. Just as there are many distinct mathematical approaches to developing computational simulations each with their own dedicated communities, visualization also divides itself amongst different application areas and/or mathematical approaches. Here, however, we will use application areas or programmatic issues only to illustrate more general trends, except when discussing special cases that are part of the current research scene. Interested readers should consult textbooks referenced for more balanced and wide ranging examples.

Who Should Read This Chapter

Researchers with a variety of backgrounds and job roles will have an interest in visualization. This chapter starts with the general to build the reader’s understanding of pertinent issues (the background of visualization; its relation to computer graphics and computer science departments; the visualization pipeline and how this abstraction relates to the general frame work of visualization systems as well as its dependence on hardware; ending with the background to CSE). The chapter then looks at seven visualization research areas relevant to CSE:

  • Interactive simulation and computational steering;

  • Collaborative, remote visualization and visualization services;

  • VR technologies for visualization;

  • User experience and assessment;

  • Teaching and serious gaming;

  • Communicating science to the public;

  • Ultra-scale visualization;

  • And computational aesthetics.

All readers should get some benefit from these, but we have mainly aimed at three kinds of readers:

  • Visualizers, who are often specialized in one area of visualization, may find the discussion of more general issues useful as well as finding interest in issues in other areas of visualization research.

  • Practitioners of CSE with interests in a specific area of visualization will have a variety of needs, skills and knowledge. They will benefit from the general issues and also from selecting relevant topics from those discussed in more detail.

  • CSE managers and policy makers: in general, this group needs to be aware of the hardware and software needs the visualization professionals require to do their jobs. The CSE manager needs to understand the separation and intertwined nature of CSE and visualization and the way their needs differ with the CSE problems under consideration.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Serious Games: A game designed for any purpose rather than entertainment. Serious games are considered useful to those who wish to use simulation for training and education e.g., flight simulations. They also make use of games engines, a good platform for development and play.

Virtual Reality (VR): The use of computers, software and I/O devices to create an artificial environment that immerses the user in such a way that the user ‘believes’ the environment is real and is also known as a virtual environment. Although all of the 5 senses may be involved in computerized environments it is primarily sight, sound and touch (haptics) that are engaged.

Visualization: There are many definitions of visualization. For the purpose of this chapter we use the term to cover the use of computer and computer graphics technology to present data in a way that aids human understanding and communication. Today visualization is somewhat arbitrarily divided into scientific and information visualization.

Visual Analytics: Provides visual interfaces to large repositories of data by combining information visualization with human factors and data analysis to support decision making.

Scientific Visualization: The first distinct area of visualization to have developed. Initially computer graphics technology was used to ‘view’ the result of computer simulations which had an inherent geometry e.g., the flow of air over an aircraft.

Data Visualization: The second area of visualization to emerge that focused on statistical plots and thematic cartography. This area of visualization has now merged with information visualization.

Exploratory visualization: This term is not universally recognized in visualization, but the ideas covered by the term are important to this chapter. Exploratory visualization is an open process where the user has no set goal and/or is looking for no particular outcome – their intention is to understand their data better and perhaps to satisfy their curiosity. Researchers new to visualization often want to explore the data in an open way, to understand the possibilities and limitations of the technology. Alternatively researchers with results that are ‘unexpected’ may wish to use a number of techniques including visualization to investigate the ‘unexpected’ element of their science. These ‘unexpected’ results can potentially drive paradigm shifts in the science and must be carefully handled.

Information Visualization: The final area of visualization to emerge that initially aimed to show visually the relationships within databases i.e., information held in a database that has no geometrical or geographical association.

Haptics: Relates to touch and in this chapter applies to VR where a number of physical haptic devices exist; haptic rendering defines how a device is perceived.

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