ScienceSim: A virtual environment for collaborative visualization and experimentation

With region names such as Newton, Euclid, Fermat, Darwin, Kepler, Mendel, Einstein, Pascal, and Turing, the mission of ScienceSim is not hard to guess.  Launched in January 2009 by the ACM and the IEEE Computer Society community for the Supercomputing 2009 conference (SC09), ScienceSim has as its goal to “Enable new usages in education and visualization through the construction of persistent 3D spaces build and deployed by a federation of organizations and users”:

ScienceSim is an ideal platform for researchers to conduct experiments that require visualization of large, complex data sets that are not easily understood or analyzed in a spreadsheet or report-the kind of “big data” that is the focus of supercomputing research. “The output of many – from astronomical simulations to medical models – is complex and often highly visual,” says Justin Rattner, Intel’s Chief Technology Officer. “Creating a persistent, standardized environment where these models can reside will make it easier to share and explore these data sets with other researchers.”

Indicative showcase exhibits include:

The QuickSort visualization was one of our first attempts at building a region module to drive the behavior of objects. Basically, we create some number of colored objects and apply a quick sort algorithm using the hue of the object as its value. This simple visualization pointed out several things: single pivot selection results in sorts that are much closer to O(n^2) so we added a sample set to determine the pivot point; and this algorithm begs for parallel processing.

Fern Lifecycle and Population Genetics Simulations
We are growing virtual ferns to better understand how their lifecycle of independent, alternating, haploid-diploid generations affects their genetics at the population level. The ferns’ health and fitness are determined by the interaction of their genome with environmental factors such as crowding, altitude, weather, and soiltype. Opensim region modules provide tools for summarizing and plotting data about the population, and for visualizing patterns of genetic diversity that emerge across the landscape.

Cellular Automata Demonstrations
The patterns of cloudcover and the mosaic of soiltypes in the fern genetics simulation are both controlled by cellular automata. We have created region modules to demonstrate the continuous automata system used to generate cloudcover and to demonstrate Conway’s Game of Life on the surface of a torus.

“The potential for other types of applications is far-reaching”, notes the writer of the Intel article ‘ScienceSim: A virtual environment for collaborative visualization and experimentation’:

In the healthcare arena, for instance, physicians might use ScienceSim to simulate the outcome of reconstructive surgery or visualize medical concepts, such as the impact of asthma or smoking on lung function, or how diet affects the circulatory system. Businesses could use ScienceSim to conduct highly realistic virtual conferences, or to collaboratively develop cars or other complex products. They also could leverage the platform to educate and train employees. For instance, the Fashion Research Institute has established several regions on ScienceSim and is using the platform to train students in fashion design.

When I visited ScienceSim yesterday and today, however, I saw too little evidence of substantive use of the grid in the almost 3 years since its launch.  Buildings abound in virtual ghost towns, and yet most lie empty; visualisations that realise the potential of ScienceSim are few and far between; and many of the regions I tried to visit were offline.  I did have the pleasure of visiting inter alia some of the EdLab installations and some of the Abyss Observatory, however.

The good news is that anyone, it would seem, can connect a new region to the grid … but since I’ve a bad habit of over-committing myself, I may give this a miss for the time being.

That apart, freebie shops as on every grid … though I’ve yet to figure out what need there may be in the BIO-SE (Biological Interactive Objects for Science Education) sim for nuns and priests:

Reading and references


‘ScienceSim: A virtual environment for collaborative visualization and experimentation’


The Abyss Observatory


About Christopher Hutchison

Museologist, cognitive dissident, political grouch, curmudgeonly bibliophage, and all round jolly nice chap.
This entry was posted in Case study, OpenSim, SL in Education. Bookmark the permalink.

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