Stanford opens state-of-the-art facility for collaborative scientific visualization

An immersive visualization environment, the HIVE will give researchers a powerful new tool to advance our knowledge across many disciplines. Members of the Stanford community are invited to tour the new research and teaching facility on June 6.

Tom Abate

At the HIVE dedication, faculty demonstrations previewed some of the visualization capabilities that are available to researchers campus-wide.

"Seeing is believing," or so the saying goes. A new facility housed in the Huang Engineering Center gives that old adage a forward spin: Seeing is understanding.

Stanford's new HANA Immersive Visualization Environment, or HIVE for short, is designed to give researchers a powerful new tool to see, study and solve problems in every realm of knowledge from biology to cosmology and from engineering to art.

With a screen 10 feet tall and 24 feet wide, the HIVE resembles a small movie theater. But rather than one large screen, the HIVE is an assemblage of 35 high-definition displays. These displays can work together to offer a detailed and magnified view of one image, or be individually programmed to display side-by-side visualization of different images.

Members of the campus community are invited to see this new collaborative research and teaching facility from 1 to 4 p.m. Friday, June 6, in the basement of Huang Engineering, Room 050. The HIVE was recently launched in a private ceremony.

"We've worked for years with our funding partners and with the School of Engineering to make this new visualization tool available," said Charbel Farhat, chairman of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford and director of the Army High Performance Computing Research Center (AHPCRC), which co-sponsored the HIVE along with the software firm SAP and Stanford School of Engineering.

Margot Gerritsen, director of the Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering (ICME) and associate professor of energy resources engineering, enlisted SAP in the project and helped bring the HIVE to fruition.

"Researchers are creating tremendous amounts of data through computations, simulations, measurements, sensor readings and so forth," Gerritsen said. "A laptop screen doesn't do that justice. We have to have a way to visualize such data in ways that allow us to see the big picture and also zoom in on the detail."

Stanford Engineering Dean Jim Plummer, who set space aside for the shared facility, attended the recent HIVE christening, where a handful of faculty demonstrations previewed some of the visualization capabilities that are available to researchers campus-wide.

These demos included a simulation of the formation of the early cosmos created by the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory; detailed, 360-degree views of Michelangelo's sculpture of David created by Marc Levoy, the VMware Founders Professor of Computer Science and of Electrical Engineering; and a simulation of the structural damage inflicted when an improvised explosive device explodes under an armored personnel carrier, a presentation narrated by Farhat, who is the Vivian Church Hoff Professor in Aircraft Structures at Stanford in addition to being director of AHPCRC.

Key HIVE backers were on hand for the launch. Speaking on behalf of SAP was Vishal Sikka, a former executive of the software firm, who noted how visualization enabled knowledge that might otherwise remain abstract to "be shared, looked at and examined."

John Pellegrino, director of the Computational and Information Sciences Directorate inside the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, noted that the HIVE was a result of a three-way partnership involving government, industry and academia.

Pellegrino added that while some scientists "can look at the mathematical equations and understand what they mean and imply, the rest of us need this visualization capability to realize what these equations are predicting."

The HIVE is now open to all Stanford faculty, students and staff. Reservations are required to use the facility, as are bona fide research plans to utilize its capabilities. Click here to learn more.

Tom Abate is associate director of communications at Stanford Engineering.