Oak Ridge’s New VISTA Lab Aims for Data Viz Breakthroughs

By Staff report

May 2, 2020

The scale of scientific computing is dramatically scaling up, leaving researchers scrambling to manage both their ambitious hardware needs and their unwieldy datasets. Visualization is a crucial tool in wrangling those datasets, allowing researchers to quickly understand and iterate on results from experiments and simulations. Now, a new lab at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is working to accelerate the development of state-of-the-art visualization tools.

The new laboratory is called VISTA, short for Visual Informatics for Science and Technology Advances. VISTA is an experimental lab that will leverage the dozens of ORNL staff and researchers specializing in data visualization to create an “epicenter” for researchers to receive individualized internal consulting on their projects. VISTA is being designed to be dynamic and user-friendly, with staff able to configure collaborative spaces as necessary.

“There are sub-domains within visualization, such as scientific visualization, information visualization, and visual analytics, and having a centralized lab where the various experts can get together and discuss challenges is an enormous advantage,” said David Pugmire, a senior scientist in ORNL’s Scientific Data Group, in an interview with ORNL.

VISTA’s leads see opportunities for applications across a wide range of areas. “Augmented reality, virtual reality, data visualizations, intelligent user interfaces, nothing is off limits,” said Chad Steed, VISTA’s director. Steed also highlighted applications in burgeoning AI research at the laboratory. “Visualization is integral to understanding data at the onset of a project and helps AI developers find the best match between data and AI techniques,” he said.

Steed, a senior staff researcher in ORNL’s Computer Science and Mathematics Division, has been specializing in data visualization for decades. For him, VISTA is more than a help desk – it’s a proving ground. ”I like to think of VISTA as a testbed, mixing creative innovations with practical applications while increasing ORNL’s stature as a premiere data analytics laboratory,” he said. “Ultimately, we envision VISTA to operate similar to ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, in that it allows us to develop and evaluate new approaches and share the most promising tech to the scientific communities.”

VISTA will pass along successful technologies to ORNL’s Exploratory Visualization Environment for Research in Science and Technology (EVEREST) team, which handles the data coming from the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility’s supercomputers (including Summit, the world’s fastest publicly ranked supercomputer). Beyond EVEREST, there are plans to link VISTA with the Compute and Data Environment for Science (CADES), a platform that helps researchers analyze large amounts of data.

To read more about VISTA, read the article from Oak Ridge National Laboratory here.

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