Many CIOs will be familiar with the organisational status that is attached to having the biggest monitor in the office. The arrival of gleaming new 21-inch flat screen monitor on a desktop can result in desperate bunfights as employees try to secure equivalent honours.
But at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) researchers had a good case to justify the size of their screens: simulating rather large nuclear explosions, and so replacing the need for live nuclear testing.
And the laboratory staff in question were not requesting the 21-inch monitors, they had far grander plans: a high resolution visualisation room – a room which has 43 million pixels projected onto three of its walls, the ceiling and floor. The room is 15 feet wide, 10 feet deep and 12 feet high and uses 33 stereoscopic digital projectors to produce seamless images. Not the sort of equipment found on the average desk.
However, this is not some case of over-dependence on status symbols. The advantage of visualisation rooms is that highly complex computations can be modelled and represented, making it possible to detect hitherto unknown relationships.
This is particularly beneficial to the scientists at LANL, where the atom bomb was developed under the Manhattan Project. The LANL's Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC) Programme is charged with modelling nuclear detonations, without having to set off a nuclear device.
The complexity of these models is such that one calculation can generate the equivalent amount of data as the entire print collection of the US Library of Congress. With single simulations generating as much as 652 terabytes of data, extreme resolution is required to glean as much information as possible from the image.
"Even with datasets that have been reviewed for many years, immersive viewing at this scale is revealing significant discoveries," explains Bob Greene, the visualisation specialist at LANL. "This stereoscopic visualisation room is an important development in our efforts to advance the nature of predictive simulation science."