Scientific Visualization: Definition & Examples

Instructor: David Gloag

David has over 40 years of industry experience in software development and information technology and a bachelor of computer science

In this lesson, we will define visualization and scientific visualization and show how the two are related, then examine some examples of scientific visualization.

Understanding Through Seeing

As a people, we gather a vast amount of information. There's no denying it. We collect weather information for forecasting purposes. We gather purchase information to predict trends. And, we even crunch financial information to get an understanding of business performance. Further, the amount of information increases almost daily as we try to stay ahead of the things happening around us. But how do we do that? How do we glean the meaning of the information we capture? It isn't easy. The amount of information is so large it's hard to make sense of it all. Fortunately, we've developed a number of methods to help us along the way. One, in particular, is visualization.

What is Visualization?

Visualization is the act or process of converting an idea or concept into visual terms so that it may be more easily understood. If you think about it, we do this sort of thing all the time. For example, remember the last time you tried to explain an object to someone who had never seen it before? While you gave your verbal description, you may have been drawing a picture with your hands. ''It was about so big, and yay long.'' Or the time when you started off the description with, ''Picture if you will …'' Both are trying to give the recipient a mental picture of what you saw, so they can gain a better understanding.

What is Scientific Visualization?

Scientific Visualization narrows the field of visualization somewhat and focuses on representing scientific information or phenomena. Typically, it is as part of some research that is being undertaken. Its purpose is to gain a better understanding of the vast amounts of information gathered using visualization techniques. For example, consider the movie Twister from a few years ago, or more recently, the movie San Andreas. Both were about the study and scientific visualization of natural phenomena (Twister dealt with tornados, and San Andreas dealt with earthquakes). Obviously, the drama surrounding the main characters was the focus of the movie. But scientific visualization was clearly there in the background.

Examples of Scientific Visualization

As you might imagine, in addition to visualizing natural phenomena, there are other examples of scientific visualization. They include:

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