Computer program turns complex data into brilliant images

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The future of computers is here, and University of Utah scientists keep pushing the envelope. They have developed new imaging programs that turn complex data into brilliant pictures you can view on your iPhone or iPad.

ImageVis3D Mobile became available last fall, and new applications are emerging. The latest is an app that simulates a nuclear reaction.

The colorful, clear, 3-D images are created by ImageVis3D. The program takes abstract phenomena and data and turns it into something we can see and better understand. Those pictures help with teaching college students and with collaboration among professionals. They also point to the future of computers for all of us.

ImageVis3D, developed by Jens Krueger and Tom Fogal at the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute at the University of Utah.

"The average computer user can now visualize and look at their data in real time, regardless of how large it is," says Fogal. "That's what motivated us to develop the software in the first place."

The user can manipulate a wide range of 3D images of medical, scientific and engineering data. Scientists can study anatomy, climate, fuel efficiency. The user assigns colors to specific pieces of data.

"I want 19 to be red. I want green to show up for the numbers 32 through 36. And, by doing that and iterating over that process, they can bring out the features of their data set that they're interested in," says Fogal.

This technology helps teach a new generation of computer-savvy, visually-oriented students.

Tatjana Jevramovic is the Director of the Utah Nuclear Engineering Program. She used the technology in her classroom this semester and says the students loved it.

"So, if I show to them in the classroom something like this, very attractive with a lot of colors, they are very capable to understand easily and much faster abstract phenomena," says Jevramovic.

Abstract phenomena like a fission reaction in a nuclear reactor: There's a new app for that. Jevramovic can display complex simulations of a nuclear reactor's core on an iPod, iPhone or iPad. The technology also helps researchers look at nuclear power plants and share performance information.

So, what does all of this mean to the average computer user? In the future, Fogal says, it means we'll all be able to download more complex material onto even smaller computer devices.

"This is stuff they would need a supercomputer for ten years ago," says Fogal. "So, I'm kind of thinking the things that we're doing on supercomputers now, I'll be doing in the palm of my hand in 10 years."

Jevramovic agrees.

"Not everyone can have supercomputers at home, nor will that be the future," she says. "But, that could be the future, really," she says pointing to her iPhone.

Whatever that future brings, computer scientists and their collaborators from other departments plan to stay on the cutting edge.

The reactor simulation software is not available commercially, but you can get ImageVis3D free at the Apple iTunes Store.



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Jed Boal


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