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Scientific Visualization

Scientific visualization, sometimes referred to as visual data analysis, uses the graphical representation of data as a means of gaining understanding and insight into the data. Scientific visualization research at SCI has focused on applications spanning computational fluid dynamics, medical imaging and analysis, and fire simulations. Research involves novel algorithm development to building tools and systems that assist in the comprehension of massive amounts of scientific data. In helping researchers to comprehend spatial and temporal relationships between data, interactive techniques provide better cues than noninteractive techniques; therefore, much of scientific visualization research focuses on better methods for visualization and rendering at interactive rates.


Charles Hansen

Volume Rendering
Ray Tracing

Valerio Pascucci

Topological Methods
Data Streaming
Big Data

Chris Johnson

Volume Rendering
Uncertainty Visualization

Mike Kirby

Uncertainty Visualization

Ross Whitaker

Topological Methods
Uncertainty Visualization

Scientific Visualization Project Sites:

Publications in Visualization:

Topological and Statistical Methods for Complex Data,
Subtitled “Tackling Large-Scale, High-Dimensional, and Multivariate Data Spaces,” J. Bennett, F. Vivodtzev, V. Pascucci (Eds.). Mathematics and Visualization, 2015.
ISBN: 978-3-662-44899-1

This book contains papers presented at the Workshop on the Analysis of Large-scale,
High-Dimensional, and Multi-Variate Data Using Topology and Statistics, held in Le Barp,
France, June 2013. It features the work of some of the most prominent and recognized
leaders in the field who examine challenges as well as detail solutions to the analysis of
extreme scale data.
The book presents new methods that leverage the mutual strengths of both topological
and statistical techniques to support the management, analysis, and visualization
of complex data. It covers both theory and application and provides readers with an
overview of important key concepts and the latest research trends.
Coverage in the book includes multi-variate and/or high-dimensional analysis techniques,
feature-based statistical methods, combinatorial algorithms, scalable statistics algorithms,
scalar and vector field topology, and multi-scale representations. In addition, the book
details algorithms that are broadly applicable and can be used by application scientists to
glean insight from a wide range of complex data sets.

Scientific Visualization: Uncertainty, Multifield, Biomedical, and Scalable Visualization,
C.D. Hansen, M. Chen, C.R. Johnson, A.E. Kaufman, H. Hagen (Eds.). Mathematics and Visualization, Springer, 2014.
ISBN: 978-1-4471-6496-8

Surface boxplots
M.G. Genton, C.R. Johnson, K. Potter, G. Stenchikov, Y. Sun. In Stat Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 1--11. 2014.

In this paper, we introduce a surface boxplot as a tool for visualization and exploratory analysis of samples of images. First, we use the notion of volume depth to order the images viewed as surfaces. In particular, we define the median image. We use an exact and fast algorithm for the ranking of the images. This allows us to detect potential outlying images that often contain interesting features not present in most of the images. Second, we build a graphical tool to visualize the surface boxplot and its various characteristics. A graph and histogram of the volume depth values allow us to identify images of interest. The code is available in the supporting information of this paper. We apply our surface boxplot to a sample of brain images and to a sample of climate model outputs.

Distortion-Guided Structure-Driven Interactive Exploration of High-Dimensional Data
S. Liu, Bei Wang, P.-T. Bremer, V. Pascucci. In Computer Graphics Forum (CGF) (Proceedings of EuroVis), Vol. 33, No. 3, pp. 101--110. 2014.

Dimension reduction techniques are essential for feature selection and feature extraction of complex high-dimensional data. These techniques, which construct low-dimensional representations of data, are typically geometrically motivated, computationally efficient and approximately preserve certain structural properties of the data. However, they are often used as black box solutions in data exploration and their results can be difficult to interpret. To assess the quality of these results, quality measures, such as co-ranking [ LV09 ], have been proposed to quantify structural distortions that occur between high-dimensional and low-dimensional data representations. Such measures could be evaluated and visualized point-wise to further highlight erroneous regions [ MLGH13 ]. In this work, we provide an interactive visualization framework for exploring high-dimensional data via its two-dimensional embeddings obtained from dimension reduction, using a rich set of user interactions. We ask the following question: what new insights do we obtain regarding the structure of the data, with interactive manipulations of its embeddings in the visual space? We augment the two-dimensional embeddings with structural abstrac- tions obtained from hierarchical clusterings, to help users navigate and manipulate subsets of the data. We use point-wise distortion measures to highlight interesting regions in the domain, and further to guide our selection of the appropriate level of clusterings that are aligned with the regions of interest. Under the static setting, point-wise distortions indicate the level of structural uncertainty within the embeddings. Under the dynamic setting, on-the-fly updates of point-wise distortions due to data movement and data deletion reflect structural relations among different parts of the data, which may lead to new and valuable insights.

Overview of New Tools to Perform Safety Analysis: BWR Station Black Out Test Case
D. Mandelli, C. Smith, T. Riley, J. Nielsen, J. Schroeder, C. Rabiti, A. Alfonsi, J. Cogliati, R. Kinoshita, V. Pascucci, Bei Wang, D. Maljovec. In Proceedings of the Probabilistic Safety Assessment & Management conference (PSAM), 2014.

The existing fleet of nuclear power plants is in the process of extending its lifetime and increasing the power generated from these plants via power uprates. In order to evaluate the impacts of these two factors on the safety of the plant, the Risk Informed Safety Margin Characterization project aims to provide insights to decision makers through a series of simulations of the plant dynamics for different initial conditions (e.g., probabilistic analysis and uncertainty quantification). This paper focuses on the impacts of power uprate on the safety margin of a boiling water reactor for a station black-out event. Analysis is performed by using a combination of thermal-hydraulic codes and a stochastic analysis tool currently under development at the Idaho National Laboratory, i.e. RAVEN. We employed both classical statistical tools, i.e. Monte-Carlo, and more advanced machine learning based algorithms to perform uncertainty quantification in order to quantify changes in system performance and limitations as a consequence of power uprate. We also employed advanced data analysis and visualization tools that helped us to correlate simulation outcomes such as maximum core temperature with a set of input uncertain parameters. Results obtained give a detailed investigation of the issues associated with a plant power uprate including the effects of station black-out accident scenarios. We were able to quantify how the timing of specific events was impacted by a higher nominal reactor core power. Such safety insights can provide useful information to the decision makers to perform risk-informed margins management.

Analyzing Simulation-Based PRA Data Through Clustering: a BWR Station Blackout Case Study
D. Maljovec, S. Liu, Bei Wang, V. Pascucci, P.-T. Bremer, D. Mandelli, C. Smith. In Proceedings of the Probabilistic Safety Assessment & Management conference (PSAM), 2014.

Dynamic probabilistic risk assessment (DPRA) methodologies couple system simulator codes (e.g., RELAP, MELCOR) with simulation controller codes (e.g., RAVEN, ADAPT). Whereas system simulator codes accurately model system dynamics deterministically, simulation controller codes introduce both deterministic (e.g., system control logic, operating procedures) and stochastic (e.g., component failures, parameter uncertainties) elements into the simulation. Typically, a DPRA is performed by 1) sampling values of a set of parameters from the uncertainty space of interest (using the simulation controller codes), and 2) simulating the system behavior for that specific set of parameter values (using the system simulator codes). For complex systems, one of the major challenges in using DPRA methodologies is to analyze the large amount of information (i.e., large number of scenarios ) generated, where clustering techniques are typically employed to allow users to better organize and interpret the data. In this paper, we focus on the analysis of a nuclear simulation dataset that is part of the risk-informed safety margin characterization (RISMC) boiling water reactor (BWR) station blackout (SBO) case study. We apply a software tool that provides the domain experts with an interactive analysis and visualization environment for understanding the structures of such high-dimensional nuclear simulation datasets. Our tool encodes traditional and topology-based clustering techniques, where the latter partitions the data points into clusters based on their uniform gradient flow behavior. We demonstrate through our case study that both types of clustering techniques complement each other in bringing enhanced structural understanding of the data.

Keywords: PRA, computational topology, clustering, high-dimensional analysis

Topological Methods in Data Analysis and Visualization III
P.-T. Bremer, I. Hotz, V. Pascucci, R. Peikert. Mathematics and Visualization, 2014.
ISBN: 978-3-319-04099-8

The Natural Helmholtz-Hodge Decomposition For Open-Boundary Flow Analysis
H. Bhatia, V. Pascucci, P.-T. Bremer. In IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics (TVCG), Vol. 99, pp. 1566--1578. 2014.
DOI: 10.1109/TVCG.2014.2312012

The Helmholtz-Hodge decomposition (HHD) describes a flow as the sum of an incompressible, an irrotational, and a harmonic flow, and is a fundamental tool for simulation and analysis. Unfortunately, for bounded domains, the HHD is not uniquely defined, and traditionally, boundary conditions are imposed to obtain a unique solution. However, in general, the boundary conditions used during the simulation may not be known and many simulations use open boundary conditions. In these cases, the flow imposed by traditional boundary conditions may not be compatible with the given data, which leads to sometimes drastic artifacts and distortions in all three components, hence producing unphysical results. Instead, this paper proposes the natural HHD, which is defined by separating the flow into internal and external components. Using a completely data-driven approach, the proposed technique obtains uniqueness without assuming boundary conditions a priori. As a result, it enables a reliable and artifact-free analysis for flows with open boundaries or unknown boundary conditions. Furthermore, our approach computes the HHD on a point-wise basis in contrast to the existing global techniques, and thus supports computing inexpensive local approximations for any subset of the domain. Finally, the technique is easy to implement for a variety of spatial discretizations and interpolated fields in both two and three dimensions.

Extracting Features from Time-Dependent Vector Fields Using Internal Reference Frames
H. Bhatia, V. Pascucci, R.M. Kirby, P.-T. Bremer. In Computer Graphics Forum, Vol. 33, No. 3, pp. 21--30. June, 2014.
DOI: 10.1111/cgf.12358

Extracting features from complex, time-dependent flow fields remains a significant challenge despite substantial research efforts, especially because most flow features of interest are defined with respect to a given reference frame. Pathline-based techniques, such as the FTLE field, are complex to implement and resource intensive, whereas scalar transforms, such as λ2, often produce artifacts and require somewhat arbitrary thresholds. Both approaches aim to analyze the flow in a more suitable frame, yet neither technique explicitly constructs one.

This paper introduces a new data-driven technique to compute internal reference frames for large-scale complex flows. More general than uniformly moving frames, these frames can transform unsteady fields, which otherwise require substantial processing of resources, into a sequence of individual snapshots that can be analyzed using the large body of steady-flow analysis techniques. Our approach is simple, theoretically well-founded, and uses an embarrassingly parallel algorithm for structured as well as unstructured data. Using several case studies from fluid flow and turbulent combustion, we demonstrate that internal frames are distinguished, result in temporally coherent structures, and can extract well-known as well as notoriously elusive features one snapshot at a time.

Freeprocessing: Transparent in situ visualization via data interception
T. Fogal, F. Proch, A. Schiewe, O. Hasemann, A. Kempf, J. Krüger. In Proceedings of the 14th Eurographics Conference on Parallel Graphics and Visualization, EGPGV, Eurographics Association, 2014.

In situ visualization has become a popular method for avoiding the slowest component of many visualization pipelines: reading data from disk. Most previous in situ work has focused on achieving visualization scalability on par with simulation codes, or on the data movement concerns that become prevalent at extreme scales. In this work, we consider in situ analysis with respect to ease of use and programmability. We describe an abstraction that opens up new applications for in situ visualization, and demonstrate that this abstraction and an expanded set of use cases can be realized without a performance cost.

Ovis: A Framework for Visual Analysis of Ocean Forecast Ensembles
T. Hollt, A. Magdy, P. Zhan, G. Chen, G. Gopalakrishnan, I. Hoteit, C.D. Hansen, M. Hadwiger. In IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics (TVCG), Vol. PP, No. 99, pp. 1. 2014.
DOI: 10.1109/TVCG.2014.2307892

We present a novel integrated visualization system that enables interactive visual analysis of ensemble simulations of the sea surface height that is used in ocean forecasting. The position of eddies can be derived directly from the sea surface height and our visualization approach enables their interactive exploration and analysis. The behavior of eddies is important in different application settings of which we present two in this paper. First, we show an application for interactive planning of placement as well as operation of off-shore structures using real-world ensemble simulation data of the Gulf of Mexico. Off-shore structures, such as those used for oil exploration, are vulnerable to hazards caused by eddies, and the oil and gas industry relies on ocean forecasts for efficient operations. We enable analysis of the spatial domain, as well as the temporal evolution, for planning the placement and operation of structures. Eddies are also important for marine life. They transport water over large distances and with it also heat and other physical properties as well as biological organisms. In the second application we present the usefulness of our tool, which could be used for planning the paths of autonomous underwater vehicles, so called gliders, for marine scientists to study simulation data of the largely unexplored Red Sea.

Keywords: Ensemble Visualization, Ocean Visualization, Ocean Forecast, Risk Estimation

muView: A Visual Analysis System for Exploring Uncertainty in Myocardial Ischemia Simulations
P. Rosen, B. Burton, K. Potter, C.R. Johnson. In Visualization in Medicine and Life Sciences III, Springer, 2014.

DTIPrep: Quality Control of Diffusion-Weighted Images
I. Oguz, M. Farzinfar, J. Matsui, F. Budin, Z. Liu, G. Gerig, H.J. Johnson, M.A. Styner. In Frontiers in Neuroinformatics, Vol. 8, No. 4, 2014.
DOI: 10.3389/fninf.2014.00004

In the last decade, diffusion MRI (dMRI) studies of the human and animal brain have been used to investigate a multitude of pathologies and drug-related effects in neuroscience research. Study after study identifies white matter (WM) degeneration as a crucial biomarker for all these diseases. The tool of choice for studying WM is dMRI. However, dMRI has inherently low signal-to-noise ratio and its acquisition requires a relatively long scan time; in fact, the high loads required occasionally stress scanner hardware past the point of physical failure. As a result, many types of artifacts implicate the quality of diffusion imagery. Using these complex scans containing artifacts without quality control (QC) can result in considerable error and bias in the subsequent analysis, negatively affecting the results of research studies using them. However, dMRI QC remains an under-recognized issue in the dMRI community as there are no user-friendly tools commonly available to comprehensively address the issue of dMRI QC. As a result, current dMRI studies often perform a poor job at dMRI QC.

Thorough QC of diffusion MRI will reduce measurement noise and improve reproducibility, and sensitivity in neuroimaging studies; this will allow researchers to more fully exploit the power of the dMRI technique and will ultimately advance neuroscience. Therefore, in this manuscript, we present our open-source software, DTIPrep, as a unified, user friendly platform for thorough quality control of dMRI data. These include artifacts caused by eddy-currents, head motion, bed vibration and pulsation, venetian blind artifacts, as well as slice-wise and gradient-wise intensity inconsistencies. This paper summarizes a basic set of features of DTIPrep described earlier and focuses on newly added capabilities related to directional artifacts and bias analysis.

Keywords: diffusion MRI, Diffusion Tensor Imaging, Quality control, Software, open-source, preprocessing

International Journal for Uncertainty Quantification,
Subtitled “Special Issue on Working with Uncertainty: Representation, Quantification, Propagation, Visualization, and Communication of Uncertainty,” C.R. Johnson, A. Pang (Eds.). Vol. 3, No. 3, Begell House, Inc., 2013.
ISSN: 2152-5080
DOI: 10.1615/Int.J.UncertaintyQuantification.v3.i3

International Journal for Uncertainty Quantification,
Subtitled “Special Issue on Working with Uncertainty: Representation, Quantification, Propagation, Visualization, and Communication of Uncertainty,” C.R. Johnson, A. Pang (Eds.). Vol. 3, No. 2, Begell House, Inc., 2013.
ISSN: 2152-5080
DOI: 10.1615/Int.J.UncertaintyQuantification.v3.i2

Scalable Visualization and Interactive Analysis Using Massive Data Streams
V. Pascucci, P.-T. Bremer, A. Gyulassy, G. Scorzelli, C. Christensen, B. Summa, S. Kumar. In Cloud Computing and Big Data, Advances in Parallel Computing, Vol. 23, IOS Press, pp. 212--230. 2013.

Historically, data creation and storage has always outpaced the infrastructure for its movement and utilization. This trend is increasing now more than ever, with the ever growing size of scientific simulations, increased resolution of sensors, and large mosaic images. Effective exploration of massive scientific models demands the combination of data management, analysis, and visualization techniques, working together in an interactive setting. The ViSUS application framework has been designed as an environment that allows the interactive exploration and analysis of massive scientific models in a cache-oblivious, hardware-agnostic manner, enabling processing and visualization of possibly geographically distributed data using many kinds of devices and platforms.

For general purpose feature segmentation and exploration we discuss a new paradigm based on topological analysis. This approach enables the extraction of summaries of features present in the data through abstract models that are orders of magnitude smaller than the raw data, providing enough information to support general queries and perform a wide range of analyses without access to the original data.

Keywords: Visualization, data analysis, topological data analysis, Parallel I/O

Uncertainty Visualization in HARDI based on Ensembles of ODFs
F. Jiao, J.M. Phillips, Y. Gur, C.R. Johnson. In Proceedings of 2013 IEEE Pacific Visualization Symposium, pp. 193--200. 2013.
PubMed ID: 24466504
PubMed Central ID: PMC3898522

In this paper, we propose a new and accurate technique for uncertainty analysis and uncertainty visualization based on fiber orientation distribution function (ODF) glyphs, associated with high angular resolution diffusion imaging (HARDI). Our visualization applies volume rendering techniques to an ensemble of 3D ODF glyphs, which we call SIP functions of diffusion shapes, to capture their variability due to underlying uncertainty. This rendering elucidates the complex heteroscedastic structural variation in these shapes. Furthermore, we quantify the extent of this variation by measuring the fraction of the volume of these shapes, which is consistent across all noise levels, the certain volume ratio. Our uncertainty analysis and visualization framework is then applied to synthetic data, as well as to HARDI human-brain data, to study the impact of various image acquisition parameters and background noise levels on the diffusion shapes.

Characterization and modeling of PIDX parallel I/O for performance optimization
S. Kumar, A. Saha, V. Vishwanath, P. Carns, J.A. Schmidt, G. Scorzelli, H. Kolla, R. Grout, R. Latham, R. Ross, M.E. Papka, J. Chen, V. Pascucci. In Proceedings of SC13: International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis, pp. 67. 2013.

Parallel I/O library performance can vary greatly in response to user-tunable parameter values such as aggregator count, file count, and aggregation strategy. Unfortunately, manual selection of these values is time consuming and dependent on characteristics of the target machine, the underlying file system, and the dataset itself. Some characteristics, such as the amount of memory per core, can also impose hard constraints on the range of viable parameter values. In this work we address these problems by using machine learning techniques to model the performance of the PIDX parallel I/O library and select appropriate tunable parameter values. We characterize both the network and I/O phases of PIDX on a Cray XE6 as well as an IBM Blue Gene/P system. We use the results of this study to develop a machine learning model for parameter space exploration and performance prediction.

Keywords: I/O, Network Characterization, Performance Modeling

Comprehensible Presentation of Topological Information
G.H. Weber, K. Beketayev, P.-T. Bremer, B. Hamann, M. Haranczyk, M. Hlawitschka, V. Pascucci. No. LBNL-5693E, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2013.

Topological information has proven very valuable in the analysis of scientific data. An important challenge that remains is presenting this highly abstract information in a way that it is comprehensible even if one does not have an in-depth background in topology. Furthermore, it is often desirable to combine the structural insight gained by topological analysis with complementary information, such as geometric information. We present an overview over methods that use metaphors to make topological information more accessible to non-expert users, and we demonstrate their applicability to a range of scientific data sets. With the increasingly complex output of exascale simulations, the importance of having effective means of providing a comprehensible, abstract overview over data will grow. The techniques that we present will serve as an important foundation for this purpose.

Topology analysis of time-dependent multi-fluid data using the Reeb graph
F. Chen, H. Obermaier, H. Hagen, B. Hamann, J. Tierny, V. Pascucci. In Computer Aided Geometric Design, Vol. 30, No. 6, pp. 557--566. 2013.
DOI: 10.1016/j.cagd.2012.03.019

Liquid–liquid extraction is a typical multi-fluid problem in chemical engineering where two types of immiscible fluids are mixed together. Mixing of two-phase fluids results in a time-varying fluid density distribution, quantitatively indicating the presence of liquid phases. For engineers who design extraction devices, it is crucial to understand the density distribution of each fluid, particularly flow regions that have a high concentration of the dispersed phase. The propagation of regions of high density can be studied by examining the topology of isosurfaces of the density data. We present a topology-based approach to track the splitting and merging events of these regions using the Reeb graphs. Time is used as the third dimension in addition to two-dimensional (2D) point-based simulation data. Due to low time resolution of the input data set, a physics-based interpolation scheme is required in order to improve the accuracy of the proposed topology tracking method. The model used for interpolation produces a smooth time-dependent density field by applying Lagrangian-based advection to the given simulated point cloud data, conforming to the physical laws of flow evolution. Using the Reeb graph, the spatial and temporal locations of bifurcation and merging events can be readily identified supporting in-depth analysis of the extraction process.

Keywords: Multi-phase fluid, Level set, Topology method, Point-based multi-fluid simulation