Scientific Visualization

Scientific Visualization Definition

Scientific visualization refers to the practice of producing graphical representations of scientific phenomena as a means of gaining understanding and insight into the data.

Scientific Visualization example - a heatmap displaying a hurricane.
A high angle view of the 18 km Hurricane Bonnie cloud tower. Image from NASA Scientific Visualization Studio


What is Scientific Visualization?

Scientific visualization refers to the process of representing raw, scientific data as images, providing an external aid to improve scientists’ interpretations of large data sets and to gain insights that may be overlooked by statistical methods alone.

Displaying complex data in visual form provides a clear and intuitive approach to processing big data analytics and enhances understanding, exploration, and decision-making with the use of familiar, visual metaphors. Scientific data visualization, categorized as either 2D or 3D scientific visualization, uses techniques from a variety of fields, including image processing, computer animation, computer vision, signal processing, computer graphics, human-computer interaction, and computer-aided design.

Scientific Visualization Techniques

Methods for 2D scientific visualization and 3D scientific visualization increasingly incorporated computer graphics as the discipline matured, with vector fields and scalar fields from measured data and computer simulations being the main applications.

The primary methods for 3D scientific visualization of scalar fields are isosurfaces and volume rendering, and the principal methods for 3D scientific visualization of vector fields include particle tracing, glyphs, and line integral convolution; the main methods for 2D scientific visualization of scalar fields are drawing contour lines and color mapping, while the primary methods for 2D scientific visualization of vector fields include glyphs and streamlines or line integral convolution.

Some scientific visualization tools include:

  • Computer animation: the process of creating digitally generating animated images
  • Computer simulation: refers to the attempts of a network of computers or computer program to simulate the outcomes of a mathematical model associated with a particular system
  • Surface rendering: the automatic process by which a computer program generates an image from a 2D or 3D model -- techniques include scanline rendering, ray tracing, ray casting, and radiosity.
  • Volume rendering: a set of techniques used to display a 2D projection of a 3D discretely sampled data set
  • Volume visualization: refers to the process of creating graphical representations of data sets that are defined on three-dimensional grids

Scientific Visualization Applications

High performance scientific visualization is applied throughout a variety of disciplines. Some scientific visualization examples include:

  • Formal Sciences: computer mapping, curve plots, imagine annotations, and scatter plots enhance research in such fields as topography.
  • Applied Sciences: provides visual representations that enable city rendering, traffic measurements, and mesh plots for vehicles and aircraft.
  • Natural Sciences: 3D scientific visualization software aids in such experiments as molecular rendering, gravitational waves simulation, volume plotting of the logarithm of gas/dust density in stars and galaxy simulations, and 3D radiation hydrodynamics calculations of massive star supernovae explosions
  • Ecology and Geography: scientific visualization animation improves research and understanding in such applications as terrain visualization, climate visualization, and tornado simulations.
  • Mathematics: higher-dimensional objects may be visualized in the form of projections in lower dimensions, enabling virtual object manipulation
  • Business: identifies trends in customer and market data and transform raw data into actionable insights.

Scientific Visualization Software Solutions

There is an expanding variety of scientific data visualization software solutions that range from commercially licensed software and cross platform application frameworks, to freemium tools, public domain software systems, and open source toolkits. Some popular solutions include Amira, Avizo, Datacopia, Dataplot, MeVisLab, Orange, ParaView, tomviz, Vis5D, and VisIt.

Does HEAVY.AI Offer a Scientific Visualization Solution?

The HEAVY.AI interactive visual analytics platform offers dynamic tools for managing big data for scientific visualization. HEAVY.AI Render works server-side to provide interactive visualizations of high-cardinality data. Render uses GPU buffer caching, modern graphics APIs, and an interface based on Vega Visualization Grammar to generate custom pointmaps, heatmaps, choropleths, scatterplots, and other visualizations, enabling zero-latency, real time visual interaction at any scale.