We, Gilles Ferrand and Don Warren, are astrophysicists exploring immersive 3D visualization of astronomy data using virtual reality (VR). This work is ongoing since 2017 at the RIKEN institute in Japan. Gilles Ferrand is a Research Scientist at the Astrophysical Big Bang Laboratory (ABBL), co-affiliated with iTHEMS. Don Warren is a former ABBL member, now a Research Scientist at the Interdisciplinary Theoretical and Mathematical Sciences Program (iTHEMS).
Scientific visualization is a key tool in natural sciences, for observations and simulation data alike. Manipulating 3D data in a meaningful way is a non-trivial task, which requires a knowledge of both the physics at play, and the visualization techniques involved. While artificial intelligence techniques are increasingly being use for data analysis, a "human in the loop" is still critical to ensure proper operations and to foster discovery. By presenting data in an immersive 3D setup, the promise of virtual reality (VR) is to let researchers use their instinctual abilities to recognize three-dimensional shapes and spatial relationships. Recent developments on both the hardware side (with VR headsets available for general consumers) and the software side (with mature 3D engines and their ecosystems) have dramatically lowered the cost to entry to VR. We believe the technology is poised to play an important role in the future of scientific research, as well as for education and public outreach. So, in parallel with our more traditional research on astrophysics, we have embarked on this project to let us and our colleagues harness the new technology. By sharing our methodology and results on these pages, we hope to help others join us in this challenging but exciting journey.
If you have questions or comments on our project, or would like to try our prototypes, feel free to contact us using the links at the bottom of this page.
We acknowledge ongoing financial and in-kind support from iTHEMS and ABBL. We also received financial support from the RIKEN Collaboration Seed Fund to organize the 2019 All-RIKEN VR Workshop.
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