Issue: Volume: 25 Issue: 5 (May 2002)

Part 5: Science Retrospective

By Phil LoPiccolo

As the editors looked back at science visualizations that appeared in Computer Graphics World over the past two decades, we were struck not only by the significance of the discoveries these images help make possible, but even more so by the impressive range of scientific disciplines that have embraced graphics technologies as a means of understanding the world around us. As the selections on the following pages clearly show, researchers in fields ranging from agronomy and astronomy to mathematics and medicine have pushed the limits of science visualization to examine phenomena at the smallest scales of inner space to the vast dimensions of outer space. What these images also help us see is that if we follow the curve of development and adoption of this technology, the most amazing discoveries are yet to come. Stay tuned.

1982 Japanese computer graphics artist Yoichiro Kawaguchi digitally recreates a milk-drop "coronet," originally captured in a stroboscopic, stop-action flash photograph by MIT professor of computer science, Harold "Doc" Edgerton.

February 1982 False-color Landsat imaging helps researchers study the effects of animal herding on a 34,000 sq. km area of Kenya. The images reveal that during a period of restricted grazing from 1973 to 1978, grassland continued to be overtaken by bushy Acacia plants (shown in red).

July 1982 A computer simulation of tree growth-using color to distinguish live and dead trunks-helps foresters at the University of Massachusetts visualize growth dynamics and determine effective, ecological logging patterns.

February 1983 By pseudo-coloring spectroscopy data from Centaurus A-a huge radio wave and X-ray source-astronomers at the European Southern Observatory are able to create a model of the galaxy and determine its exact shape.

May 1983 The computer anatomical reconstruction package, developed at the University of Texas Health Science Center, creates accurate, 3D solid models of biological structures, such as this rat brain, solely from CAT scans or other 2D cross section data. The technique allows medical researchers to study structures that are too delicate to examine directly.

March 1994 Contour software enables surgeons to "walk through" facial reconstruction operations. The physician highlights areas, layer by layer, where tissue must be added or removed, and the computer builds a 3D model showing the result.

December 1985 Software to reconstruct this series of images from CAT scan data was created at the Mallinckrodt Institute to give physicians a 3D picture not only of the patient's skull, but also of the soft tissue (muscle and skin). These more complete views of the face and skull aid reconstructive surgeons in diagnosing and treating craniofacial abnormalities.

April 1986 A novel technique, entailing high-speed image processing and solid modeling, creates 3D images of the human heart in action. The interactive visualization, developed at the Mayo Medical School, enables doctors to analyze heart volume as blood is pumped through color-coded chambers during the cardiac cycle.

September 1986 Working from telescopic black-and-white photos of Halley's Comet, astronomers at the Winer Moblie Observatory use pseudo color imaging to highlight and analyze the dust and gases in the comet's plasma tail as it passes through the sun's magnetic fields.

January 1987 Using graphics techniques such as raytracing, diffusion, and fractal imaging, Jean-Francois Colonna, a researcher in France's Lactamme laboratory, created this 3D representation of the Mandelbrot set of equations. His images are used for education and artistic purposes.

January 1987 Adapting its video game technology, ISG Technologies releases the 3DMV workstation, a dedicated, diagnostic system that lets physicians "fly through" 3D reconstructions of the human body in real time.

July 1987 AMAP plant modeling software, developed by French agronomy center CIRAD, recreates flowers, trees, and other plants from seed to bud, to full fruit, to death using the laws of botany. By extrapolating older trees from younger ones, researchers are able to predict the success of hybrid varieties.

October 1987 Using the volumetric rendering capabilities of the Pixar Image Computer, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical Institution reconstructed this human pelvis from 48 CT scans. By controlling the opacity of any tissue type, they can, for example, hide the skeleton to visualize details of blood vessels, organs, and other structures.

August 1988 James Curry, a mathematics professor at the University of Colorado, develops code to help him interact with and visualize the behavior of algorithms as he attempts to solve high-order polynomial equations.

August 1988 Scientists at the NASA Ames Research Center run proprietary fluid-flow simulation software on a Silicon Graphics Iris workstation to better understand how air flows around aircraft and space vehicles such as this mushroom-shaped orbital vehicle.

January 1989 Arthur Olson at Scripps Clinic models the interaction between the outer coat of a polio virus (shown in yellow) and human antibodies (shown in blue and purple).

January 1989 Artists Christopher Muench and Gala Fitzgerald borrow diagnostic images, such as this CAT scan from Winthrop Pharmaceuticals, and enhance them for both clinical and illustration purposes using Lumena software from Time Arts.

December 1990 Jacqueline Schaffer draws air-brush quality medical illustrations using a Macintosh computer, a Wacom tablet, and Adobe Illustrator. She creates this work for the Retina Center at the Saint Joseph hospital in Baltimore.

April 1991 "The Astronomers" features the largest concentration of 3D computer animation of any PBS television project ever created. Sidley/Wright studio uses Wavefront and Neovisuals software and Silicon Graphics machines to depict the curvature of space due to gravity.

December 1991 Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory transform 2D images of Venus, sent by the Magellan space probe, into a 5000-mile simulated fly-over of the planet's surface. The 3D animations are created with JPL software running on Sun, Solbourne, Vicom, Adage, and DEC hardware.

April 1993 National Cancer Institute researchers use Cray supercomputers to simulate proteins that provoke the AIDS virus to replicate. Then they design molecules, such as the one above, that will inhibit the proteins from performing their biological functions.

November 1994 Visualization experts at George Mason University use SAIC's fluid dynamics software and CEI's visualization tools to simulate the 1993 World Trade Center bomb blast. One goal is to study the impact on nearby structures. In the sequence below, red depicts high-pressure areas, blue depicts low-pressure areas.

February 1995 Bioengineers at Sofamore Danek use ConceptStation from Aries to create solid models of spinal implants. Then they use Stratasys rapid prototyping systems to build physical prototypes for hands-on evaluation by surgeons.

March 1997 Visible Productions develops techniques to generate 3D models of the human body from the National Library of Medicine's Visible Human data set. The models are used for virtual surgery and training.

September 1998 Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory rely on SGI InfiniteReality graphics engines to power their interactive volume rendering of the mixing of oil (red) and water (blue) that occurs at the interface when the two liquids are disturbed.

April 1999 Engineers at NASA's Glenn Research Center develop a simulation showing turbulence inside a swirler, a device that mixes air and fuel for jet engines.The visualization, created with CEI's Ensight, helps designers optimize turbulence, and thus mixing, to improve combustion and reduce pollution.

May 2000 Egyptologists at Manchester Museum in England use AVS/Express software and volume rendering to digitally recreate the bodies of mummies from CT scan data. The non-invasive technique allows them to solve long-standing mysteries without disturbing the remains in the process.

January 2000 To illustrate how one human brain differs from another, visualization experts at UCLA created this brain map, in which larger, lighter colored ellipsoids (depicting regions that control sensation and motor function) indicate more variation than smaller, darker ellipsoids (depicting regions that support language and logical reasoning).

February 2001 The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History takes 3D high-resolution scans of its rapidly deteriorating triceratops skeleton and constructs a precise physical replica using rapid prototyping technology. The museum also uses the 3D data to study the physical capabilities of the dinosaur and produce an animation of how it may have walked.

September 2001 Researchers at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications use volume rendering and slice plane techniques to animate the collision of two neutron stars. The blue clouds represent low-density material, the orange volume depicts a tidal arm, and the purple area shows how the structures vary as they collide.

Back to Top
Most Read