Visualization Lab

Empirically, astrophysical objects are not amenable to experimental studies; we rely on careful observations rather than laboratory experimentation to obtain data.  Theoretically, astrophysical objects are rarely amenable to simple physical models; we rely more and more on computational methods to understand the complicated physics that governs the phenomena we observe. With the advancement of computer technology and numerical algorithms, complex astrophysical phenomena such as supernova explosions, accretion of material onto stars, stellar pulsations, and the granular patterns of solar convection are now accessible via simulation almost as if they were accessible via experiments in the laboratory.  But humans are visual creatures. Numbers alone do little to feed our physical understanding and intuition. To fully realize the scientific and aesthetic potential of these simulations, we also need sophisticated visualization tools.
Basic visualization tools exist in all fields of science:  chemists use model kits to understand the three dimensional structures of molecules; geologists produce three dimensional renderings of seismic activity to identify fault planes and the motions of plates over time. Astrophysical simulations and data have reached a complexity that far outstrips the simple 2- or 3-dimensional plots and rudimentary “movies” (combined still-frames) that we currently employ. Fortunately, the sophisticated tools that we need have been developed and are routinely used in the fields of game design and digital media.  Incorporating such tools would dramatically aid our ability to teach and convey complex ideas, and to distill complex physical concepts with visual, visceral impact.
We intend for the Theoretical Astrophysics Santa Cruz  (TASC) Center to play a leading role in bringing sophisticated visualization tools to the astrophysical community. TASC will provide cutting-edge, scientific simulations, which will serve as raw material for research collaborations between digital-art students and computational science students. The resulting visual products will be used to
   • increase the scientific impact of the work done within TASC,
   • teach the general public about science and the universe,
   • showcase our work at fund-raising events and astronomy presentations,
   • and provide artists with the opportunity to bring phenomena that are beyond the scale of human senses into visible, visceral reach.
This program is designed to support highly creative graduate and undergraduate students from UCSC's Digital Arts and New Media and Game Design programs. Art & Visualization Graduate Fellows are expected to work closely with the other TASC members (faculty and graduate students) to help them envision complex data in novel ways.