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News|College of Engineering and Applied Science

UW Student to Help Create 3-D Animation Software for Scientists


March 23, 2012 —

Photo- Ashish Dhital, a University of Wyoming second-year graduate student, wears 3-D glasses and uses a Wii remote control to move a 3-D computer model at an IQ station in the College of Engineering's Distributed Robotics Laboratory. This summer, Dhital will intern at NCAR, where he will assist Alan Norton in developing 3-D animation software that scientists can use to visualize and better understand their data.

Ashish Dhital will play a key role in transforming crunched computer data into a more visually appealing form for National Center for Atmospheric Research ( NCAR ) scientists. The second-year University of Wyoming graduate student has been selected for a 2012 Summer Internships in Parallel Computational Science (SIParCS) program at NCAR, located in Boulder, Colo.

From May 21-Aug. 3, Dhital will collaborate with Alan Norton on the project "Animation Control for 3-D Visualization of Scientific Data." As an NCAR intern, Dhital will conduct research under Norton's guidance; make a presentation based on his research; and participate professionally in all SIParCS activities.

"My understanding is NCAR deals a lot with weather-related data," says Dhital, a computer science major from Kathmandu, Nepal. "They have a humongous amount of data they can capture visually rather than (scientists) going through notes all the time."

Dhital will assist Norton in creating software that can help scientists visualize -- in 3-D -- everything from the movement of a hurricane to drought conditions in the Southwest. The VAPOR (Visualization and Analysis Platform for Ocean, Atmosphere and Solar Researchers) software provides scientific researchers an active 3-D visualization environment that runs on most Unix and Windows systems equipped with modern 3-D graphics cards.

"VAPOR provides a modern tool to make pictures that are useful to scientists," Norton says. "Scientists are generating enormous datasets. One of the biggest challenges we've found with scientists is, ‘How do you understand the results?' Quite often, the output from the computation is terabytes or even petabytes. It's an unfathomable amount of data.

"That's what VAPOR is all about: to provide a visual understanding of the numbers coming out of the simulations."

Norton says he hopes that Dhital can begin programming some of the animation control capabilities needed to run the software.

"He (Dhital) has a background in animation. That's why he fits well in this project," says Norton, a software engineer with NCAR's Computational and Information Systems Laboratory (CISL). "He was at the top of my list."

Amy Ulinski, an assistant professor in UW's Computer Science Department , has guided Dhital's research experience. The department is working on a research project with the Idaho National Laboratory. As part of the project, Dhital and other UW computer science graduate students have helped researchers there develop a menu control panel in Android tablet form, which he says is easier to handle than a Wii remote control during 3-D computer imaging.

"With the Wii control, you have to do lots of movements to complete various tasks and it becomes tiresome," Dhital explains. "It gets very tricky to control. This (3-D) is an immersive environment."

To be considered for an NCAR internship, applicants must submit a letter describing why they want to be part of a particular project; a resume that shows prior research projects and other related experience; their college transcripts; and two letters of recommendation, says Kristin Mooney, SIParCS program coordinator for NCAR's CISL. This year, NCAR has 10 projects in which college interns will participate, she says. Since its inaugural year in 2007, several UW students have been selected to participate in the internship program. The 11-week internship includes a stipend and housing.

"This is an opportunity for students to really get acquainted with an area, understand the problems and conduct some initial investigation," Norton says. "My hope is he (Dhital) will get interested in and excited about the problems we're trying to solve, and bring his own perspective. Technology is evolving, and this is an area where technology is changing fast."

"This internship is a real plus point for me. I want to get into graphics and computer interface design," Dhital says. "I am interested in the interaction part of it. You can deal with that through an understanding of graphics, interaction methods and design principles."

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