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Displays Science Technology

Visualizing Data Inside the 30-ft Allosphere 131

TEDChris writes "The Allosphere, being created at UC Santa Barbara, is the most ambitious attempt yet at creating powerful 3d visualizations of raw scientific data, such as the structure of a crystal, or how quantum effects take place. Researchers watch from a bridge inside the 30-foot sphere, looking at data projected 360 degrees around them and listening to 3D sound. The first major public demo of the facility has just been posted at TED.com. Optimists would argue that many of the greatest scientific breakthroughs happened through a new visual way of imagining data. Penicillin and relativity come to mind. So this is either a killer new research vehicle, an incredible toy, or just an insanely expensive art project."
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Visualizing Data Inside the 30-ft Allosphere

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  • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @05:03PM (#27591033)

    So this is either a killer new research vehicle, an incredible toy, or just an insanely expensive art project.

    It's entertainment! It sounds like a great source of revenue to me. Charge admission! Team up with The Discovery Channel and whip up some fascinating images with insightful commentary! Scientists love showing off their research to awed folks who can't really comprehend it.

    I want one! I can't wait for the Slashdot article that describes how to make a cheap, open source version of this!

  • by Tiro ( 19535 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @05:07PM (#27591083) Journal
    I recently visited the Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences. It's a new facility with impressive technology (and cost).

    However the presentation was all animation, moral harangues, and celebrity voiceover, with little content and no interesting astrophysics science. The whole concept seemed like a watered-down ripoff of the powers of ten video [powersof10.com] I saw in middle school. Remember that? I would much rather have watched that again.

  • Really Cool, But... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gpronger ( 1142181 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @05:19PM (#27591251) Journal
    My guess is that it will be seen as an impressive technological feat, with marginal real applicability.

    In the talk on "TED" JoAnn Kuchera-Morin, trumps the ability to fly into the brain, see the tissue as landscape and hear the blood density as sound. It is very unclear the advantage of the projection to the scale they've accomplished (other than to say we've done it).

    They've pulled together impressive super-computer technology, but if it was on a larger PC screen versus a "walk-in" version, is there a real gain?
  • As a scientist (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hoplite3 ( 671379 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @05:23PM (#27591293)

    It sounds like a cool toy, but choosing the correct way to visualize data is really hard. Generally, picking which quantities to plot against each other corresponds to taking a lower dimensional slice of a data set. Picking the right slice isn't just difficult, it's a really important result of the research.

    There have been lots of advances in trying to automatically determine these sorts of reductions (the Netflix recommendation contest brought a lot of this to public attention), but for many problems, the "interesting" lower-dimensional space that's plotted corresponds to some important symmetry of the data.

    I guess what I'm saying is that in science (like in art) limitations sometimes help guide useful thinking. Just seeing "everything" in 3D 36 degrees with more dimensions represented as sound doesn't necessarily help that.

  • by khellendros1984 ( 792761 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @05:25PM (#27591323) Journal
    Einstein used to construct mental images, which often became the inspiration for his mathematical theories. For instance, a train traveling at c with a headlamp on the front...and somehow, the light from that is moving at c away from the train. From an external perspective, both the train and light beam are moving at c. Obviously, there's time dilation involved....at least, I was always told that he came up with that thought experiment.
  • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @05:26PM (#27591341)

    Before Einstein started scribbling stuff down on paper, he performed "thought experiments" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gedanken_experiment [wikipedia.org], which are like a form of visualization. For instance, while he was at the Swiss patent office in Bern, he started to try imaging what the world outside would look like, if the street tram he was riding in, was traveling at the speed of light. He imagined that if traveling away from a clock, the hand would never move from his perspective.

    No cats were injured in Einstein's experiments.

    I'll have to pass on the penicillin, although I regularly "visualize" a form of it in my breadbox every week.

  • by Zerth ( 26112 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @05:26PM (#27591347)

    2 hemispheres made of rear-projector material, 2 projectors, 2 webcams, computer with dual video cards or one card with 2 ports.

    Project a grid onto each hemisphere, use the webcams to distort the grid until it projects evenly across each hemisphere as viewed from inside(you'll lose some resolution at the edges).

    Play quake until you vomit.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @06:00PM (#27591761)
    My company was on the design team for the AlloSphere. After listening to the ideas they wanted to express in this "venue" we took our planetarium experience and turned it on it's side. (pause for groans) To help visualize/demonstrate the idea, we found an old globe lying around, cut it in half and glued an extra long scale rule in the middle as the audience platform. While I can't speak to how they are using it today, at the time we conceived it it was pretty radical. We looked at all kinds of immerse technology, including CAVEs, small planetarium domes and plain old curved simulation screens and there was nothing you could get 20 or so researchers in at the same time and have everyone in the sweet spot. One really has to look at it from the starting point of a planetarium, not Starry Night on a flat screen. I have not been in the thing since it's been commissioned but I look forward to hearing what the multichannel sound system does.
  • Re:Amazing(not) (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MadnessASAP ( 1052274 ) <madnessasap@gmail.com> on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @06:05PM (#27591803)

    That's what I was thinking. They could just buy some very high density LCD's and pay one of the engineerign students to spend a few weeks rigging them up with a motion detector and headphones? Uses alot less space, power and you get true stereoscopic vision. You would also get many different viewpoints for more then one perspective on the same dataset. In short it looks impressive at first but becomes a colossal waste of when you really think about it.

  • by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @06:07PM (#27591817) Journal
    Rotating the image into your field of view would destroy some of the spatial awareness of the data.

    One of the points is for spatial awareness to more easily come into play when interpreting data.

    Pretend you are a drug researcher, and you're working on developing analogues of naturally-occuring protein substrates. If you have a 360 model of the receptor site of the protein, being able to visualize the space your substrate fits into could help you identify possible analogues.

    For an oversimplified example, look at epinephrine, which is a naturally occuring substance in the body that binds with adrenergic receptors and causes a response. Adding a methyl group in the right spot gives you a different compound that binds with adrenergic receptors more than epinephrine, but causes no response. Thus we have a compound that can be used as a drug to prevent that response. Or, maybe we can build a drug that increases the response.

    Epinephrine drugs are well-understood... but there are many possible drugs that could be developed if we had better modeling and understanding of protein receptor sites. An encompassing 360 view of a receptor site could result in a breakthrough.

    There are a ton of other ways this could be useful, that's just one example.
  • Re:Amazing(not) (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dave420 ( 699308 ) on Thursday April 16, 2009 @07:42AM (#27595761)
    It seems to be more about the software that represents the data in a visual/audio form than the displays, which as you note - are not fantastically exotic.

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." -- Howard Aiken