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Bringing scientific expeditions into the schools
NASA Ames Research Center, USA
Two new technologies, the FASTexpedition and Remote FAST, have been developed that provide remote, 3D, high resolution, dynamic, interactive viewing of scientific data (such as simulations or measurements of physical phenomena). The FAST expedition permits one to access scientific data from the World Wide Web, take guided expeditions through the data. and continue with self controlled expeditions through the data. Remote FAST permits collaborators at remote sites to simultaneously view an analysis of scientific data and share control of the analysis. These technologies are now being used for remote collaboration in joint university, industry, and NASA projects.
NASA Ames Research Center has initiated a project to make scientific data and guided expeditions through the data available as FASTexpeditions on the World Wide Web for educational purposes. In addition, a World Wide Web repository for FASTexpeditions has been set up by the San Diego Supercomputer Center.
Despite the availability of the FASTexpeditions, it is unlikely that schools will extensively use this technology without some additional encouragement. A proposal to promote the use of these technologies for improving science education is presented.
Previous technologies used for remote visualisation and remote collaboration
Previous technologies used for remote visualisation of dynamic scientific data are live video conferencing and movie clips on the World Wide Web. Both of these technologies rely on transmitting the data in video format (as pixel information) over the network.
Live video conferencing
Current live video conferencing technology does not provide high resolution dynamic visualisations. Either the spatial resolution or the frame rates are far less than provided by the current graphics workstations. Furthermore, the network bandwidths used by this technology are too high for widespread use on current networks. For example, the measured bandwidth for using the desktop video conferencing tool, InPerson (TM), between NASA Ames Research Center and NASA Headquarters was 0.5 Megabits per second. The total bandwidth between these sites was 1.5 Megabits per second, so the video conference used 1/3 of the total bandwidth between these sites to achieve a 160x120 pixel image.
Movie clips on the world wide web
Many sites are placing movie clips to illustrate dynamical scientific phenomena on the World Wide Web. These movie clips, like current video conferencing, are low resolution and require a high volume of data to be transferred over the network. Typical movie clip files are of the order of Megabytes for a viewing time of the order of seconds. Furthermore, movie clips display only preset views of the data --- they do not provide an interactive "what if" analysis of the data.
The new technologies developed for remote visualisation and remote collaboration
The key concept for the new technologies, the FASTexpedition and Remote FAST, is to send the scientific data (eg., grid, vector, and scalar fields) along with viewing scripts over the network and have the images (pixels) generated by a visualisation tool running on the viewer's local workstation. This concept requires a workstation capable of generating the images rapidly, but it permits the interactive viewing of 3D, high resolution, dynamic scenes while using relatively little bandwidth on the network. A detailed description of the technology is given in an online report on the World Wide Web (Clucas and Watson, 1994).
The visualisation tool selected as a basis
The visualisation tool selected to implement this concept is FAST (Flow Analysis Software Toolkit). FAST was selected as the basis of these technologies because
Additional information about FAST is available on the World Wide Web at
- FAST is in widespread use.
- FAST has a very rich set of tools for analysis of vector and scalar fields.
- FAST provides the high performance needed for interactive analysis.
- FAST provides viewing of data computed or measured on a complex grid, either structured or unstructured.
- FAST has the built in journal feature that automatically records an analysis as a script file that can be replayed. These script files are used to create the guided expeditions in the FASTexpeditions and to provide the remote control in Remote FAST.
- FAST has a built in stereo viewing capability for truly 3D viewing.
- FAST is available free on the World Wide Web.
Examples of FASTexpeditions
Examples of FASTexpeditions can be found on the World Wide Web at the URLs
Advantages of these new technologies over the previous technologies
The advantages of these new technologies over using video format are
- The visual is much higher in resolution (1280x 1024 pixels) than typical video formats transmitted over the network (160x120 to 640x480 pixels).
- The form of the visualisation can be controlled interactively (because the viewer is interactively controlling the visualisation tool running on his workstation).
- A rich variety of guided expeditions through the data can be included easily.
- A capability is provided for collaborators at remote sites to simultaneously view an analysis being controlled by one of the collaborators. Control of the analysis can be passed from site to site.
- The scenes can be viewed in 3D using stereo vision.
- The volume of data required to be sent over the net for the FASTexpedition may be much less than required for movie clips. For an example case where movie clips of ocean velocity vectors were converted to FASTexpeditions, the volume of data sent over the net was reduced by a factor of 70. This comparison of movie clips with FASTexpeditions is given in an online report on the World Wide Web (Watson, 1994).
- The network bandwidth used for the visualisation using Remote FAST is much smaller than the network bandwidth used for video formats. (The measured peak bandwidth used for Remote FAST was 1 kbit/sec --- 1/500th the bandwidth measured for desktop video conferencing.)
Comparison of the new technologies with two other new technologies just introduced
Two other technologies have been introduced for visualising 3D information from the World Wide Web since the development of the technologies described above. They are WebSpace, a browser for viewing 3D objects specified by the Virtual Reality Modelling Language (VRML), and Vis5D, a browser for viewing 3D time varying scientific data.
WebSpace permits interactive viewing of 3D objects or environments --- for example, an interactive "walk through" of a historic building. This technology sends geometric descriptions of the objects over the net rather than pixels, so it also makes efficient use of the network. The objects are specified in the Virtual Reality Modelling Language (VRML), which is based on Silicon Graphics, Inc.'s Open Inventor (TM). Open Inventor (TM) has been ported to many platforms by Template Graphics Software, Inc.
WebSpace is missing the following features provided by the FASTexpeditions and Remote FAST
Additional information on WebSpace is available in an online report on the World Wide Web (Silicon Graphics, 1995).
- Tools for analysis of scientific data.
- A mechanism for guided expeditions through the data.
- The capability for remote collaborative analysis of the data.
Vis5D permits interactive viewing of 3D time varying data --- for example weather data. The 5 dimensions consist of 3 dimensions for space, 1 dimension for time, and 1 dimension for the list of scalar values that can be visualised. This technology sends the scientific data over the net rather than pixels, so it also makes efficient use of the network. It permits viewing of one more dimension than the FASTexpeditions and Remote FAST. (FAST2, the new version of FAST currently under development, will permit viewing the same number of dimensions as Vis5D.) Vis5D will run on many platforms.
Vis5D is missing the following features provided by the FASTexpeditions and Remote FAST
Additional information on Vis5D is given in an online report on the World Wide Web (Hibbard, 1995).
- A capability for depicting data on unstructured or complex structured grids. (Since many simulations of physical phenomena require the use of unstructured or complex structured grids, this technology would not be useful for viewing many simulations.)
- Many analysis tools available in FAST (such as topology extraction).
- A mechanism for guided expeditions through the data.
- The capability for remote collaborative analysis of the data.
Current applications of the new technologies
FASTexpeditions and Remote FAST are being used in joint research projects involving. NASA, the aerospace industries, and universities. In one project, NASA generated a numerical simulation of a flow field, Stanford University used feature extraction tools to extract key features of the flow field, and McDonnell Douglas provided a critical analysis of the numerical simulation. The FASTexpeditions permitted scientists at all sites to access and view the flow field, take guided expeditions through the flow field and view the extracted features, and continue with self controlled expeditions through the flow field. Then invoking Remote FAST offered the capability for simultaneous joint collaborative analysis of the flow field and the extracted features.
FASTexpeditions and Remote FAST are being included as key elements of the DARWIN (Development Aerodynamics Revolutionising Wind tunnels and Intelligent Systems for NASA) project to permit more convenient remote use of NASA facilities.
NASA Ames has initiated a project to make FASTexpeditions of fluid dynamic simulations generated at NASA available on the World Wide Web for use in education. In addition, the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC has created a repository of FASTexpeditions on their World Wide Web server at http://www.sdsc.edu/Education/Expeditions/FASTexpeditions/main-page.html
Bringing these new technologies into the schools
Teachers can use these FASTexpeditions for in classroom illustrations. They can display the analyses provided by the author and then augment these with their own analyses to illustrate additional features or principles. They can even use the Remote FAST capability to have remote experts present analyses to the classes in the classrooms (the virtual classroom concept).
The teachers can also request that students, as homework assignments, view the guided expeditions and/or create their own expeditions to illustrate some principle. If questions arise, the teachers and students can use the Remote FAST capability to connect to each other, to the author of the FASTexpeditions, or to other scientists and employ co-visual analysis to determine the answers.
Despite the availability of FASTexpeditions in the repository mentioned above, it is unlikely that the FASTexpedition and Remote FAST technologies will be used extensively in schools without some additional action. The problem is a "chicken and egg" problem Information suppliers provide information on the World Wide Web in a format that permits access and analysis by the "least common denominator" tools currently used for access and analysis -- and schools buy tools for access and analysis of information based on the format of information provided by the information suppliers. The result of this problem is that current sources of dynamic scientific data is in the format of movies because the movie player is currently the "least common denominator" tool for viewing dynamic data. This problem will exist until some action breaks the "chicken and egg" cycle.
The solution to this problem is to catapult the level of the "least common denominator" tools for accessing and analysing scientific data to the "scientific expedition". The "scientific expedition" is defined as a tool that has the major features of the FASTexpeditions. Specifically, a "scientific expedition"
In addition, a capability like Remote FAST that permits co-visualisation of the data by colleagues at remote sites is highly desirable.
- permits obtaining the actual scientific data or excerpts of the data from the World Wide Web.
- automatically launches an analysis tool for interactively investigating the data with high resolution, 3D, dynamic graphics.
- permits obtaining guided expeditions through the data.
- permits viewers to take control of the tool for their own "what if analysis"
- permits viewers to post their analyses back to the World Wide Web for others to view as guided expeditions.
This author proposes that the multimedia community seize a golden opportunity to help schools improve science education by
- selecting, endorsing, and publicising a new set of "least common denominator" tools for accessing and analysing scientific data.
- determining the specifications for multimedia systems that can support these tools and publicising these specifications.
- helping schools to obtain these systems.
Two new technologies, the FASTexpedition and Remote FAST, have been developed that provide remote, 3D, high resolution, dynamic, interactive viewing of scientific data.
By using FASTexpeditions, scientists can now include their scientific data and dynamic, 3D, guided expeditions through their data in their online reports on the World Wide Web. The reader can take these guided expeditions through the data and/or conduct self controlled interactive expeditions through the data. The reader can even post new expeditions back onto the World Wide Web as additional guided expeditions for others to view. Including FASTexpeditions in the online reports should substantially improve the effectiveness of scientific reporting.
Remote FAST permits collaborators at remote sites to co-visualise an analysis of the data and share control of the analysis. This capability, combined with the availability of the data on the World Wide Web as FASTexpeditions, should greatly improve scientists', teachers' and students' ability to collaborate in scientific research and education.
FASTexpeditions and Remote FAST have a high potential for improving science education. However, it is unlikely that schools will begin to use technologies like these without encouragement. This author proposes that the multimedia community take specific actions to help schools identify and acquire systems that can support the "scientific expedition" tools.
Clucas, Jean, and Watson, Velvin R. (1994). Interactive Visualization of Computational Fluid Dynamics using Mosaic. World Wide Web at URL
Watson, Velvin R. (1994). Bringing Scientific Expeditions into the Schools. World Wide Web at URL
Silicon Graphics, Inc. (1995). WebSpace... because the world is not flat. World Wide Web at URL
http://www.sgi.com/Products/WebFORCE/WebSpace/ [try http://www.sgi.com/Products/software/webspace_author.html]
Hibbard, William (1995). Serving and Viewing Vis5D Files Via the Web. World Wide Web at URL http://www.ssec.wisc.edu/~billh/view5d.html
InPerson is a trade mark of Silicon Graphics, Inc
OpenGL is a trade mark of Silicon Graphics, Inc
Open Inventor is a trade mark of Silicon Graphics, Inc
|Author: Dr Velvin (Val) R. Watson|
Senior Staff Scientist, NASA Ames Research Center
Mail Stop 258-2, Moffett Field, CA 94035-1000 USA
Phone: (415) 604 6421 Fax (415) 604 4377
Please cite as: Watson, V. R. (1996). Bringing scientific expeditions into the schools. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Third International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 46-49. Perth, Western Australia, 21-25 January. Promaco Conventions.
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