New Visualization Techniques

Vol.34 No.1 February 2000

From the Guest Editor

Bill Hibbard
Bill Hibbard
Space Science and Engineering Center

New technology is a funny thing. In the long run it changes the world, but in the short term it can be very difficult to persuade people to use it. For example, shared 3D virtual spaces will eventually change the world, but in the meantime there is a real struggle to get doctors, scientists, business people and even programmers to use 3D, interactive, collaborative and immersive graphics. This is partly a side-effect of the natural human resistance to change, but also due to the fact that older graphics techniques tend to have more mature implementations that have been through many iterations of refinement.

This issue of Computer Graphics focuses on efforts to develop useful applications of new visualization techniques, and aims to cover the complex issues surrounding the connection of these techniques to the needs of users.

I am familiar with the effort to make interactive 3D graphics useful to meteorologists. While 3D visualizations of weather and other environmental simulations have been around for many years, 3D graphics are only slowly being adopted by working meteorologists. Within the last few years, 3D visualization systems have been installed in many government agencies responsible for developing weather, ocean and air pollution models. While the scientists who develop models at those agencies do use these 3D systems, they still primarily rely on 2D graphics. The meteorologists responsible for making public forecasts based on weather model output, rarely make use of 3D visualization. There is a good reason for this: like doctors and airplane pilots, forecasters’ mistakes kill people and they are rightfully skeptical of new technology. The article by Paula McCaslin, Philip McDonald and Edward Szoke of the NOAA Forecast Systems Laboratory describes their efforts to bring 3D visualization to the National Weather Service’s forecasters.

I have to confess a fondness for environmental visualization, which I have indulged by asking three other sets of authors to contribute articles on this subject.

Theresa-Marie Rhyne describes how advanced visualization techniques are being integrated with data mining, policy analysis and GIS databases at the U.S. EPA. In this case, the utility of visualization techniques depends on their integration with a wide variety of information sources, as well as their easy accessibility by non-specialists such as policy makers and the public.

Ugo Taddei, Olaf David and Christian Michl of the University of Jena describe their development of interactive Java-based visualization tools for hydrology data. Their visualizations are wonderfully clear presentations of information, and their systems provide users with easily understood interaction techniques.

The article by Douglas Deutschman of San Diego State University, and Catherine Devine and Linda Buttel of Cornell University presents us with beautiful images of evolving forest ecologies, and with a better understanding of the interactions among species populations.

Because of the enormous complexity of living organisms, biology and medicine pose difficult visualization problems. David McQueen and Charles Peskin of New York University describe their work developing visualization techniques for understanding blood flow in the human heart. This is difficult because of the two-way coupling between blood flow and the flexible and active shape of the heart walls.

Environmental and biological information generally describes the same 4D space-time world where graphics are displayed, so the mapping from information space to graphics space is usually straightforward, even if the information is complex. However, visualization techniques are being extended to numerical information with high dimension, and non-numerical information, where the mapping to graphics space is not so clear.

Stephen Eick of Visual Insights has contributed an article about techniques for visually analyzing multi-dimensional databases, such as commonly occur in business. The emphasis is on a rich set of interactions for exploring different ways of looking at the information.

The article by Robert Bosch, Chris Stolte, Diane Tang, John Gerth, Mendel Rosenblum and Pat Hanrahan of Stanford University describes their techniques for visualizing computer systems. Progress in software depends on tools for improving programmers’ abilities to create, manage and debug increasingly complex systems. Visualization is centrally important to this progress.

This focus issue wraps up with a fascinating collection of visualization success stories from Russell Taylor of the University of North Carolina. These are drawn from many different application areas, each focusing on specific insights that can be attributed to specific advanced visualization techniques.

Finally, I want to thank all the authors for contributing these excellent articles. We welcome your comments.

Bill Hibbard’s research interests are interaction techniques, data models and distributed architectures for numerical visualization. He leads the SSEC Visualization Project and is primary author of the Vis5D and VisAD systems. Bill is Computer Graphics columnist for the VISFILES section.

Bill Hibbard
Space Science and Engineering Center
1225 W. Dayton Street
Madison, WI 53706

Tel: +1-608-253-4427
Fax: +1-608-263-6738

The copyright of articles and images printed remains with the author unless otherwise indicated.