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Illustrative Visualization of Processes

Final Report Summary - PROCESSILLVIS (Illustrative Visualization of Processes)

The focus of visualization research in general is to understand and utilize visual abstraction. Understanding means 1. to identify meaningful visual abstractions, 2. to assess their effectiveness for human perception and cognition and 3. to formalize them to be efficiently executable on a computational machinery. The outcome of such investigation is useful for designing visualizations for a given scenario or need, whose effectiveness can be quantified and thus the most effective visualization design can be determined.

Specifically speaking, the main focus of our research is on interactive visualization techniques that convey to the general audience how complex biological systems are and how they function. The central vision that drives our research is to provide the broad audience a large projection visualization of a particular organism, such as the E.coli bacteria, which is modeled down to the tiniest atomic detail of its macromolecular composition, so that the audience can zoom into arbitrary detail and learn about its role in the organism. We also envision that the audience can interact with functions of life in terms of changing environmental conditions and can observe how the lifeforms respond to such a change.

To achieve this vision, our approach is to integrate up-to-date biological knowledge from several online databases that contain frequently updated scientific findings related to a particular organism. For example, one database will provide us with the structural description on a microscopic spatial scale, another database will provide information on an atomic detail, yet another database will provide us with information on physiology such as pathway diagrams and life-cycle simulations. All this information will contribute to the visual depiction of the integrated model. For the E.coli bacterium, as a so-called model organism, a lot has been already discovered, so that an integration into a virtual organism is achievable.

To disseminate complex biological knowledge to a broad audience, our visualization technology needs to be easy-to-understand
and engaging. For this purpose, we investigate how scientific illustrators convey such complex information to the audience in their illustrations and animations. As an outcome, we formalize their handcrafted approaches into new automated visualization algorithms. To directly manipulate the visual representation of the model of the organism, as well as to interact with its physiology, our visualization algorithm needs to perform fast so that interactivity is possible.

We highlight one particular achievement, which is the cellView system, used to visualize the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) embedded in the blood serum, shown in the attached Figure below. This interactive visualization system allows a broad audience to explore the structural details of organisms on various levels of detail. To test our application prototype it is accessible online via remote rendering service through the following link: