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TCHPC - Building the next generation of 3D Visualization software

Electronic density visualization of a lattice dataset

TCHPC - Building the next generation of 3D Visualization software

by Jose Refojo, Visualization Specialist, TCHPC, Trinity College Dublin

As computational power grows and datasets continue increasing in both size and number, researchers are increasingly turning to 3D visualization as a tool to manage large datasets and aid interpretation and analysis of results. TCHPC has long appreciated the importance of 3D visualization and has provided visualization services to the Irish research community since 2005.

These visualization services fall into three areas: hardware support, software support and software development. The first area, hardware support, is currently managed by providing researchers with access to TCHPC's visualization facility. This facility, which includes a fully immersive sterio 3D powerwall with a tracking system, is currently being upgraded to provide new state of the art compute and rendering resources.

The second area, software support, is generally handled on a project-by-project basis as researchers can have very specific datasets and visualization requirements. In some cases these requirements can be met by finding and deploying appropriate third party visualization software. However, it's often the case that users' specific needs can not be met by using available out-of-the-box software.

This highlights the importance of the third area, software development. The relatively recent introduction of now mature technologies, such as GPGPU computing, and the latest features in OpenGL, provide functionality that is simply too useful or too computationally powerful to ignore. The need to keep up with these technological advances and provide functionality to handle the increasingly complex problems and datasets from the academic and business community highlights the importance of having expertise to develop 3D visualization software.

Over the last five years, TCHPC has developed bespoke visualization software for a significant number of research projects. Examples would include, amongst others, stream line visualization (Foams), isosurface building and rendering (Astrophysics). This work has produced a significant amount of code, bundled into a single piece of software, and provided staff with a detailed knowledge of the most commonly occurring visualization problems and requested features from different projects and research fields. This experience and expertise is now being leveraged to build TVS – a next generation 3D visualization software – that takes advantage of technological advances and recent trends in visualization. This software will make it possible for TCHPC staff to provide quality visualization support and best-of-breed software to enable scientists and engineers to engage in ground breaking research.