Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci
Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci

1883 reconstruction of Eratosthenes' map
1883 reconstruction of Eratosthenes' map

Introduction to Scientific Visualization

Scientific visualization is a branch of computer graphics that is concerned with visually analyzing and interpreting data. The data being analyzed may be the product of a physical task (such as collecting information from sensors) or computational simulation. The goal of analyzing and interpreting data, and hence scientific visualization, is to gain insight and understanding into the processes being studied.

Visualization (and thus scientific visualization) is not a new field. From ancient world maps to anatomical drawings to data charts [1] -- all are a part of scientific visualization. Indeed, many of the concepts and techniques from scientific visualization are based on the historical techniques pioneered by earlier generations.

The driving need for scientific visualization can be traced to two developments. The first development is the advent of equipment that can generate or collect large amounts of data. One example of this is high performance computers (often called supercomputers) that can run simulations generating billions upon billions of numbers. Another example is weather satellites that continuously monitor the environment. While it is possible to understand a handful of numbers, it is impossible to understand billions of them without the help of scientific visualization.

The second development occurred in 1987 when a special issue of Computer Graphics on Visualization in Scientific Computing was published.

Visualization is a method of computing. It transforms the symbolic into the geometric, enabling researchers to observe their simulations and computations. Visualization offers a method for seeing the unseen. It enriches the process of scientific discovery and fosters profound and unexpected insights. In many fields it is revolutionizing the way scientists do science.
Visualization in Scientific Computing, ACM SIGGRAPH, 1987

Since then, there have been many conferences, including IEEE Visualization, dedicated to the topic.

Human beings have been designed around the visual system. It makes sense then to tap into that capability to process and understand the vast amounts of data being generated or simulated.

Half of the human brain is devoted directly or indirectly to vision.
Professor Mriganka Sur, MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences