A partnership in 3D

A visualization in the Zar Room

Researchers can interact with large data sets and high-performance computers directly from the Zar Room. (Photo by Nicholas Labello)

Partnerships strengthen the Library. And when those partnerships produce cutting-edge digital renderings of brain tumors in a larger-than-life 3-dimensional environment, or 3D renderings from historical stereo cards in the Special Collections Research Center, or visualizations of the output of cosmological and chemical simulations, the entire research and teaching enterprise at the University is strengthened.

Such is the partnership between the Library and the Research Computing Center (RCC). This successful collaboration couples the technical expertise of RCC staff with high-end 3D visualization technology in the Kathleen A. Zar Room at the John Crerar Library. The end result is an initiative that supports innovative research, teaching, and learning opportunities for faculty, staff, and students at UChicago.

Established in late 2011, the RCC provides researchers with high-performance computing, storage, and visualization resources. In addition to providing the fundamental building blocks of computational research, the RCC also offers scientific computing support, consultation with computing specialists, and an ongoing technical workshop and training series. These offerings extend to fields in the humanities, and the biological, physical, and social sciences.

With the rise of Big Data, visualization can make data-analysis more practical. “Our vision for the Research Computing Center is to create an environment that inspires interdisciplinary science and collaboration, and so becomes the destination for research computing support,” says H. Birali Runesha, the Director of Research Computing. “Computational research traditionally involves interacting with resources that are remote in both space and time. Calculations are submitted to high-performance computers that may be thousands of miles away, and could run for a long time. By partnering with the Library, we have been able to create an environment where high-end computation and the resulting data can be interacted with directly, in the Kathleen A. Zar Room.”

In creating the Library’s Kathleen A. Zar Room, the importance of 3D visualization and maximizing technology for research was at the forefront of our design initiative. Established in 2008, the Zar Room was designed to contain cutting-edge technology, including stereoscopic 3D projectors that have mesmerized many with displays of 3D images.

By combining the technology in the Zar Room with the expertise of the RCC, researchers have an opportunity to explore how visualization can bring insight and innovation to their research and teaching. One of the first faculty members to take advantage of the Zar Room, Dr. Jonathan Silverstein, used the new technology for an Immersive Virtual Anatomy course taught to College students at UChicago, and simulcast via the AccessGrid to students 3,831 miles away in Cardiff, Wales.

This year, the technologies available in the Zar Room enabled researchers working with Dr. Paul Sereno of the Department of Organismal Biology to build digital 3D reconstructions of dinosaur fossil specimens, and in a recent collaboration between the RCC and Professors John and Stephanie Cacioppo from the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, 3D interrogation of X-Ray CT imagery was used to discover and better understand the structure of lesions found in neural tissue.

In addition, the Library and RCC have used the Zar Room as a venue for seminars and workshops related to technology apart from visualization. Examples of such sessions include tutorials on GPU computing, the fundamentals of Unix, Matlab, Python, and Parallel programming with MPI.

Since partnering with the Library, the RCC has made upgrades to the Zar Room including establishing a connection to Midway, the RCC’s High Performance Computing cluster. This downlink enables results from computations running on Midway to be streamed live to the Zar Room for visualization and post-processing, thereby enabling interactive supercomputing and simulation.

For more information about high performance computing, data storage, visualization technology and the Zar Room, faculty may email the RCC at info@rcc.uchicago.edu or call 773-795-2667.

The Kathleen A. Zar Room was created to honor the memory of Kathleen A. Zar, Science Librarian and Assistant Director for the Science Libraries from 1994-2006. It was made possible through the generosity of Kathleen’s husband, Howard Zar; her mother, Margaret Sykora; the John Crerar Foundation; and many friends.

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