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Thursday, June 12, 2008

ACEnet & Mechdyne launch 'Data Cave' for 3-D Visualization of Complex Systems like Stars

Over the last five years, universities across Canada have been organizing themselves into regional groups to acquire and operate large-scale high performance computing (HPC) facilities for research. ACEnet ("Atlantic Computational Excellence Network") is Atlantic Canada's entry into this national fabric of HPC facilities. It is a partnership of seven institutions, including Memorial University of Newfoundland, University of New Brunswick, Mount Allison University, Dalhousie University, St. Francis Xavier University, St. Mary's University and the University of Prince Edward Island.

Scientific researchers in the ACEnet now have access to advanced three-dimensional (3D) visualization capability in a 5.8 Megapixel Data Cave designed and installed by Mechdyne. [Mechdyne Corporation, headquartered in Marshalltown, Iowa, USA, is the world’s largest company dedicated to consulting and development of immersive, networked and collaborative visualization systems]

On June 10, the ACEnet launched 'Data Cave', which projects stereoscopic 3D imagery onto three wall surfaces and the floor, allows researchers to step inside and interact with computer-generated images in ways that can provide new insight and understanding.

At the grand opening, representatives from the nine ACEnet member universities and other VIPs experienced the immersive visualization for complex scientific concepts, such as an astrophysicists’ calculations of how light and heat swirl away from an exploding star. As a scientific tool, the Data Cave will save scientists a lot of time and improves their ability to interpret the results of extremely complex calculations. Conventional visualization of a star, for example, would create two-dimensional slices that do not really convey useful information. With immersive visualisation, they can better see the 3D turbulence and other characteristics of a star, and can see the effect of modifications in the data or in their calculations much more quickly.

The Data Cave display system uses four Mechdyne Beacon SX+ projectors to generate a 1,450 x 1,050 pixel image on each of four screens measuring 10 ft. X 7.5 ft. The image is seen in stereo by users wearing LCD active shutter glasses. An integrated real time motion tracking system monitors the position of a primary user, maintaining an optimal viewing perspective and allowing interaction with the images using handheld control devices.

Since the Data Cave is based on the Mechdyne Flex display system design, it also can be easily configured as a 30ft long flat screen or as an angled ‘immersive theatre’ in addition to the cubic Cave format. The tracking system covers the entire 30ft width of the flat screen, three times the usual tracked space of immersive environments. This flexibility allows ACEnet scientists, such as geophysicists, to display data in formats commonly used in such fields as oil exploration and development.

Mechdyne worked closely with Sun Microsystems, which as ACEnet’s computing systems partner provided four Ultra 40 Workstations as the graphics engines for the display system. Mechdyne also collaborated with Iowa State University, a pioneer in using Cave-type display systems, to provide 3D visualisation software for the ACEnet Data Cave.

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