The type of data visualisation developed in the IDIA lab is ground-breaking and paves the way to new approaches for researchers to interact with their research data.
Visualisation of information presents one of the biggest challenges in the era of big-data astronomy. To address this challenge, the IDIA Visualisation Lab was officially launched in February 2018. The result of continuous development since 2016, the lab offers novel facilities to explore huge astronomy data sets visually, both locally and in the cloud. The visualisation lab also includes the management of research conducted using the Iziko Planetarium and Digital Dome, led by Prof. Tom Jarrett with Dr. Sally MacFarlane as Research Planetarium Consortium Liaison. Another researcher in the visualisation lab, Dr. Lucia Marchetti, is also project manager of the joint Italy/IDIA Virtual Reality Consortium.
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The IDIA Visualisation Lab facilities include:
Immersive panoramic screen for single-user planetarium usage
The Cobra is a curved, panoramic visual display system. The 180 by 135 cm curved screen is illuminated by a 4K projector and a spherical mirror. The Cobra is designed to explore our imaging and catalogue data using existing software, as well as tools developed specifically for IDIA.
WALIE is a 4x4K screen array for wide field-of-view image display
WALIE is a multi-screen video wall, consisting of a 2×2 array of high resolution 55″ screens giving the wall a total 8K UHD resolution. This is useful, for example, to compare large data sets and images. Researchers can use up to four screens on a dedicated high-end machine or bring their own device to plug in to WALIE. Researchers have used WALIE to visualise high resolution images from the MeerLICHT and MeerKAT telescopes. The large screen area allows them to display images, as well as any analytical tools required for visual analytics, in high resolution.
Novel applications of emerging technologies.
Virtual Reality (VR) has been in existence for some time, but its use in the context of data exploration is in a relative infancy. IDIA is pioneering software development in VR for the exploration of large multi-dimensional data sets, and most importantly, interaction with the data through analytics.
Immersive platforms are unique environments for visualising large, natively? three-dimensional data sets. VR is entirely immersive and a wholly individual experience. The VR system is also integrated to the Cobra so that both systems can use the same software to display in real-time the output from the VR system.
Data exploration using the full dome experience.
The Iziko Planetarium and Digital Dome opened in 2016. Besides offering public educational shows, the facility is used for research. The digital dome offers a hybrid environment through its shared immersive experience, particularly useful for collaboration and teaching on large data sets.
The Cobra is also used to develop full dome data sets for use with the Iziko Planetarium and Digital Dome.
In October 2019, the IDIA visualisation lab is co-organising a ‘data to dome’ workshop at Colgate University in the USA. The workshop, organised by the Ho Tung Visualisation Lab at Colgate University, the University of Cape Town and Iziko Planetarium Research Consortium, and the International Planetarium Society, will bring together planetaria professionals, faculty from multiple disciplines, and visualisation experts to collaborate on big data for the immersive visualisation setting of the planetarium.