VisFiles - The Next Surge of Visualization Research
It has been twenty years since the surge of visualization research following the publication of the report on Visualization in Scientific Computing by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1987. Visualization has become a mature discipline, and also an indispensable tool for understanding and communicating vast amounts of information in many fields of study. Now we are seeing a second surge of visualization research. One stimulus is the widespread, day-to-day reliance of the Web, while the other is the continuing advances of scientific supercomputing.
Author: Kwan-Liu MA
Information and Internet technology has penetrated our everyday life for both work and leisure. Our use of and reliance on this technology spurs an exponential growth of information collected for a variety of purposes from decision-making, marketing, and entertainment, to education. Because of the scale and diversity of the information, it becomes clear that visualization will play an increasing role in the process of information browsing, searching, and analysis. For example, to fight terrorism and prevent and better respond to terrorist attacks, visualization research has been boosted by the Visual Analytics program launched by the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) and the Department of Homeland Security. An important creation of the program is a book entitled “Illuminating the Path,” which defines a research and development agenda for visual analytics. The program also established the National Visualization and Analytics Center (NVAC) and five regional centers (RVAC). In 2006, a new conference named Visualization Analytics Science and Technology (VAST) was launched. Similar research programs are also being established in both Europe and Australia. Visual analytics research funding is expected to grow in the next few years, and the applications of visual analytics are certainly beyond homeland security. The subjects of study may include large-scale graph perception, visual-based social network analysis, statistical and semantic information representations and transformations, high-dimensional information visualization, temporal and spatial visual analytics, etc.
The massive computational power and storage capacity of parallel supercomputers enables scientists to simulate complex physical phenomena and chemical processes at the scale and fidelity critical to the advances of many sciences. These large-scale simulations produce data that is vast in the spatial (hundred million to billion voxels), temporal (hundred to thousand time steps), and variable (five to hundred variables) domains, creating a formidable challenge for subsequent analysis. In most cases, visualization is the only plausible path to gleaning insight from these enormous data.
Even though visualization technology has progressed significantly in recent years, we are barely capable of visualizing and analyzing terascale data to its full extent, and petascale and exascale datasets are on the horizon. The U.S. DoE’s SciDAC (Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing) program has lifted the visualization research efforts by funding two major 5-year projects beginning in September 2006. These coordinated efforts for enabling visualization at the petascale/exascale are critical to the success of computational and experimental science, including areas from high-energy physics, climate, combustion, and life sciences, to materials and chemistry. The subjects of study may include parallel visualization, time-varying data and multivariate data visualization, feature extraction and data reduction, uncertainty, higher-order data visualization, in-situ visualization, distance visualization, and collaborative data visualization and analysis.
Visualization of a terrorism data set to highlight attacks at Israel. The green nodes are attacks. The purple ones are the weapons used in the attacks. The brown nodes are attack tactics, and the blue nodes are the targets of attack. The size of each node corresponds to node degree. We can see that the most common weapons are explosives, and the main targets are businesses, transportation systems, private citizens, and properties. This visualization was generated using the OntoVis system developed by the VIDI research group at UC Davis.
Visualization of the entropy field obtained form a core-collapse supernova simulation. This visualization was made using a hardware accelerated, high-fidelity volume visualization system developed by the VIDI Research Group at UC Davis. The data set was provided by Professor John Blondin of the North Carolina State University.
The expanded research efforts demand venues for publications and communication of research innovations and findings. The annual Visualization Conference, held in conjunction with the Information Visualization Symposium and VAST, has grown into a major venue for research exchange and exhibition of visualization work. The number of attendees has reached 800 in 2006 and is expected to increase further in 2007. The annual Eurographics Visualization Symposium provides an additional forum, particularly to the growing European research community, for publication and presentation of outstanding visualization research results. Visualization research efforts are also expanding rapidly in the Asia-Pacific area, leading to the birth of the Pacific Visualization Symposium (http://vis.cs.ucdavis.edu/PacificVis08), which I am presently organizing. The first meeting will be held in Kyoto, Japan during March 5-7, 2008, with a full sponsorship by IEEE Visualization and Graphics Technical Committee.
While visualization has proved helpful to various data-intensive applications, its value to many fields is yet to be discovered. I am glad to bring back the VisFiles column to Computer Graphics Quarterly. I took over the column from Bill Hibbard in 2004, but the column was suspended along with the hardcopy of the Quarterly. This column will continue serving as another forum for presenting new vision, highlighting research innovations and activities, and providing pointers to those who are interested in entering the field of visualization. I also would like to see more presence of visualization activities in both the research and education program of future SIGGRAPH conferences. VisFiles will help promote these activities.