UTSA receives NSF funding to build visualization wall for research, education

computer graphic

Share this Story

(Dec. 14, 2009)--You've seen them on TV on "24" and "American Idol," and soon you'll see one in San Antonio. The UTSA College of Engineering announced plans to build a sophisticated visualization wall (Vis-Wall), funded by a $482,600, three-year National Science Foundation grant. The Vis-Wall will display computational models developed in UTSA's new Simulation, Visualization and Real-Time Prediction (SiViRT) Center and by other UTSA faculty in the course of research and teaching. The system will enhance engineering and technology-related education and community outreach by UTSA faculty.

"A significant part of the research we do in the College of Engineering is based on computational modeling," said Mauli Agrawal, dean of the UTSA College of Engineering. "In putting together this proposal, we initially found 13 projects that could benefit greatly from having a large-scale visualization system. This grant will give our researchers a place to display their data, test their models and draw conclusions with extreme accuracy."

Yusheng Feng, associate professor and director of the Computational Bioengineering and Nanomechanics Lab in the UTSA Department of Mechanical Engineering, is the principal investigator (PI) of the proposal for the Vis-Wall system. Co-PIs Ruyan Guo, Harry Millwater, Brent Nowak and Heather Shipley -- all faculty members in the UTSA College of Engineering -- contributed greatly to the proposal.

"Visualization is now so vital to almost all engineering and scientific disciplines that it can greatly enhance our ability to understand physical phenomena by building up digital representations -- mathematical and computer models -- and displaying complex experimental data in a comprehensible fashion," said Feng. "In my current area of computational cancer research, this new visualization system will be able to display physical and biological systems from nano- and micro-scale level objects such as nanoparticles and DNA molecules up to meso- and macro-scale entities like cells, tissues and tumors, all at the same time."

Sixteen UTSA faculty members in the College of Engineering and College of Sciences are involved and have expressed interest in using the Vis-Wall, which will boast ultra-high resolution and interactivity. Initially, the hardware will be used to:

  • Simulate cancer treatments using image-guided laser or other thermo therapies and visualize predicted outcomes;
  • Investigate an underwater robot's design and its performance in an interactive graphical environment;
  • Quantify and display complex data sets to test system reliability or chaotic motions involving nano materials.

The 15-foot wide and 4.5-foot tall Vis-Wall comprised of 24 30-inch monitors is one of three hardware components in the system which will include 25 high-end, graphics-enhanced workstations using the Linux operating system and integrated as a cluster to drive the Vis-Wall.

The system will include a multi-functional robotic arm serving as a joystick. The component will provide human-machine interaction emulating touching and control over a position that is sensed as it performs rolling, pitching and yawing motions.