$1.5 million grant to NCSA to put big data on big screen

$1.5 million grant to NCSA to put big data on big screen

Big data and supercomputing conjure up images of laboratories filled with servers and computers.

Truth is, supercomputing is part of everyday life, providing numerical models for the car you drive, the energy that powers your house, the weather forecasts you rely on and the financial systems that control the economy.

"All of those rely on computations run on computers," says UI Professor Donna Cox, director of the Advanced Visualization Laboratory at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications in Urbana, whose mission is to bring computer modeling to life on the big screen.

Cox is leading a team based at NCSA that just received a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop museum shows and science documentaries with visualizations of big data from research teams around the world.

First up: "Solar Superstorms," about explosions of radiation from the sun that could disrupt Earth's power grid and satellite communications with a direct hit. It's due to be released in early spring.

"We are looking for data to tell the story of science, to really bring to the people the importance of digitally enabled discovery," Cox said. "We want to let them know how important supercomputing and data are to their lives."

The project includes a creative team of producers, technologists, artists and educators who will collaborate with scientists and researchers across the country to raise public awareness about the Centrality of Advanced Digitally ENabled Science, known as CADENS.

The grant will fund three "ultra-high-resolution" digital museum shows that will play around the world, as well as nine high-definition documentaries to be distributed online via YouTube, Hulu and other outlets. The museum shows will premiere at giant-screen, "fulldome" theaters and will be scaled for wider distribution to smaller theaters at museums, planetariums, science centers and universities.

They will be designed to connect with broad audiences, Cox said. NCSA's visualization team will work with scientists in diverse fields, from census data to astrophysics, she said.

"We are looking for scientists anywhere who want to make a connection between the broader public and their science," she said.

Cox said computer models can simulate the spread of a disease like ebola or the paths of hurricanes or tsunamis.

"This is becoming a new way of understanding how our world operates," Cox said.

The Advanced Visualization Lab has already created data visualizations seen by millions of people at museums, planetariums and IMAX theaters, including the "Dynamic Earth" feature now playing at Staerkel Planetarium. Narrated by Liam Neeson, it explores the inner workings of Earth's climate system, with visualizations based on satellite data and simulations from NCSA, according to Parkland's website. It's traveled widely and is being translated into several languages, Cox said.

Cox's team is now working with scientists from the UI's "Blue Waters" petascale supercomputer who developed detailed scientific models to study and predict the behavior of solar superstorms. It's just a matter of time until one hits Earth, which could create "chaos," she said.

"We are taking people inside the sun so they can understand how these solar flares form, through magnetic fields that push out and create these huge solar flares and solar storms that affect our communications and power," she said. "It could bring down the power grid for months."

Scientists say Earth just missed an extreme solar storm in July 2012 that would have had catastrophic consequences. A study by the National Academy of Sciences estimated the total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion, or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina, according to NASA.

The project team includes veteran science producer/writer Thomas Lucas of New York; fulldome show producer/distributor Mike Bruno, the creative media director of Spitz; and the leaders of the NSF-supported Blue Waters and XSEDE projects, which enable thousands of scientists across the country to carry out computational and data-driven research.

Cox has collaborated with Lucas on other programs for Discovery Channel, National Geographic and PBS, including "Hunt for the Supertwister" and "Monster of the Milky Way," about massive black holes.

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billbtri5 wrote on November 11, 2014 at 9:11 am

borrowing 40 cents of every dollar spent...just a reminder..