Software algorithm visualizes large data sets

Algorithm will become an integral part of a scientist’s toolbox to answer questions about data.

Scientists have more data at their disposal than ever before -- often more than they can properly examine. But a new algorithm should make it easier for them to visualize huge data sets. And cheaper, too; software based on the algorithm can run on personal computers with as little as 2GB of RAM.

Scientists at the University of California, Davis and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory developed the algorithm over a five-year period. Based on the decades-old Morse-Smale complex, it divides, analyzes, and recombines data sets and illustrates its calculations.

The project was led by Attila Gyulassy, a UC Davis Computer Sciences graduate student, as his Ph.D. thesis. While supercomputers can now simulate physical phenomena like ocean currents and combustion, the huge amount of data they generate are nearly impossible to work with. "What is all the data good for without visualization tools that allow us to really see what is going on? We have ability to generate, but not necessarily to comprehend," explained Gyulassy's professor, Bernd Hamann, in a talk with the Industry Standard.

Gyulassy tested the algorithm on a simulation of two liquids coming together -- a data set with over a billion points on a three-dimensional grid. Running on a laptop, his software was able to analyze the information within 24 hours and illustrate aspects of the phenomena in seconds.

Hamann gives Gyulassy most of the credit. "He's really pushed this technology forward." However, he adds that more work must be done on the software before they can make it more widely available.

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