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Scientific Visualization & Visual Analytics

The SciDB Lab is currently working with ecological scientists to create visualizations of their model results and data and to create comprehensive visualization tools to aid in research and the presentation of research conclusions. Visualizations and analytics of different types – and of various data formats – can be combined or displayed within a particular context (e.g., a digital elevation map) to further aid in the understanding, synthesis, and presentation of scientific data.  These Scientific Visualization and Visual Analytics have focused on representing natural phenomena to help scientists, policy makers, and the public better understand scientific data by providing summarized and intuitive representations. This site explains our approach and shows off some of our work.

Scientific Visualization is not a new field – from its inception in the 1980’s those working in the field aim to help scientists better understand and present their computations and field data.  The Wikipedia Introduction to the field nicely summarizes its history.  

What is new today are 1) the increasing capability of desk-top computers to perform visualizations and animations in real time, 2) the availability of powerful toolkits such as VTK that make programming such applications less time-consuming and less error-prone, 3) new algorithms and software for computer games that can be re-purposed for scientific applications, 4) powerful tools for geographical and spatial analysis (e.g., ArcInfo, GoogleEarth), and 5) an emerging and broader new field Visual Analytics that aims to combine scientific visualization with other analytical reasoning tools to help users from many fields.  

Unfortunately, using these new technologies into viable visualizations is often beyond the skill or interest of even the most talented scientist.  As Lloyd Treinish says, “part of the work is to put all of these ideas into operational practice, which also serves as a testbed for further efforts in high-performance computing, systems integration, automation and visualization ….”  The SciDB Lab aims to democratize these new visualization technologies by applying its expertise in visualization, database technologies, and scientific grand challenges to provide visual analytics tools for ecologists.  

Our work in creating database tools for ecologists led us to start this work in visualization – the cost (effort) to individual researchers of creating a reliable, flexible, archivable database seems too high, but we found people wanted very much to “see” their data, and would readily go to the trouble of putting the data into a database to get that reward!


A simple visualization showing the amount of canopy cover for a study plot.
A simple visualization showing the amount of canopy cover for a study plot. Green indicates covered areas.


Our Work