Volume 13, Number 16   April 21, 2006

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Viewing data in 3-D now possible

ITS analyst Brian Reilkoff at the console of the SRC’s visualization system.

ITS analyst Brian Reilkoff at the console of the SRC’s visualization system.

Photo courtesy SRC

The image Brian Reilkoff calls up on the screen has an almost underwater feel to it – multi-coloured dots and squiggles floating against a black background. It doesn’t look anything like the Athabasca Basin seismic data he claims it to be, until he hands out special glasses. Suddenly, the dots and squiggles bulge off the screen as a three-dimensional landform that even shows the location of bore holes.

It’s no wonder Reilkoff and mining industry officials are so excited about this new technology.

Called advanced visualization, it is the latest addition to the array of tools available to University researchers, and may be one of the most flexible, said Reilkoff, a senior Information Technology Services (ITS) analyst and consultant who resides in Geological Sciences. “Literally anyone can use it,” he said, “anyone in the physical or natural sciences, engineering, the medical sciences. It’s even being used in the art and art history to visualize antiquities. It’s for people who have a need to visualize data or objects in 3-D.”

The history of the visualization system stretches back about four years, to a meeting Reilkoff arranged with U of S researchers he thought could benefit from the technology, and representatives of the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC). At that time, Saskatchewan was the only province west of Quebec without advanced visualization capabilities, he said, and enthusiasm was high “but everyone being from different disciplines was an impediment to moving forward as a group.”

Instead, Geological Sciences, with assistance from ITS, built its own small teaching-oriented visualization lab. The response of visitors to this new way of seeing data proved to be so positive, the SRC decided to proceed on its own. It set up the centre using $250,000 of its own funds that were matched through the federal/provincial Western Economic Partnership agreement. The University’s contribution was in-kind technical support.

Reilkoff explained an agreement now in place between the U of S and the SRC gives the University one day of unrestricted access to the visualization facility for each day of high-level system support. And although it has been in operation since September, Reilkoff said the University is not making full use of this opportunity.

“There may be people out there I don’t know about who could take advantage of this. We’re not going to have one of these very soon here, but that doesn’t preclude establishing smaller, department-specific facilities on campus to augment the larger system at the SRC by doing the day-to-day work.”

These visualization systems are already used, as Reilkoff demonstrated, to view mining exploration data, in automotive design, in military tank and flight training, and in molecular biochemistry for developing new drugs and materials. Future applications could include viewing MRI images in 3D rather than in just two dimensions, he said.

“It is a nice whizzy thing,” he said. “Kids love it, but it’s a valuable tool when the data environment is so complex that you need that third dimension to see what’s going on. This can take us into a whole new realm of research.”


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