Visualization Laboratory Continues Successful Run

Caption: Visualization Laboratory team members are (front row from left): Travis Ross, Janet Sinn-Hanlon, and Ryan Durdle. Standing, from left, are: Darren Stevenson, Alex Jerez, Jeremy Miller, and Joel Russ.

A cover image for the current issue of Science marks the latest success for the Beckman Institute’s Visualization Laboratory, even as new manager Travis Ross plans to add to the facility’s capabilities.

For the first time in 14 years, the Beckman Institute’s Visualization Laboratory has had one of its images chosen for the cover of the prestigious journal Science, an accomplishment that puts an exclamation point on the facility’s ongoing success with journal covers and other scientific visualization work.

Rendered by Visualization Laboratory staff member Alex Jerez from an atomic force microscopy image from Beckman researchers Eric Pop and Feng Xiong – co-authors on the accompanying article – the cover image for the print version of the journal come out today. The article by Pop and his co-authors describes their development of a form of ultra-low-power digital memory that is faster and uses 100 times less energy than similar technologies.

With more than a half-dozen of their images gracing the covers of a variety of journals in the first few months of 2011, the Visualization Laboratory – which along with the Microscopy Suite makes up Beckman’s Imaging Technology Group – is adding to its achievements over the past year in having images selected as cover art for the nation’s top scientific publications.    

In a little more than a year, the lab has had more than 20 covers, as well as other images, selected for use by journals such as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Nano Letters relating to papers from numerous Beckman researchers, as well as those from across campus. (To view more of these images visit the Visualization Laboratory’s website).

People know they can approach us and ask us to do a journal cover, or do photography. – Travis Ross

The success with cover images is something new Visualization Laboratory manager Travis Ross wants to see continue. Lab staff members Janet Sinn-Hanlon, Darren Stevenson, and Jerez worked to render the many cover images, along with student lab members and research group members within and outside of Beckman. Stevenson has remained on staff after stepping down as lab manager in 2010, when a search was started for a new manager.     

“They’ve built relationships with researchers,” Ross said. “They have been here long enough that they have repeat customers who call them. People know they can approach us and ask us to do a journal cover, or do photography.”

Jerez has been trying for almost five years to have an image selected by either Science or Nature for cover art.

“The first thing I did was text my wife and say ‘I finally got one’,” Jerez said. “You can only do these things when you have a great team behind you. Janet has had a lot of covers too, and the students do a lot of work and are a great asset for us.”

Jerez said the Science cover was the result of first, the importance of the work by Pop and his collaborators, and second, the ability of Visualization Laboratory staff members to work with  journals.

“As I kept getting rejections from journals, I started to learn that they have their own style,” Jerez said. “And Science especially confirmed this, because when Eric was talking to them they said ‘we want a real image. We don’t want anything that looks too stylized or 3-D.’ That’s one of the reasons we have become so successful. We know what the journals want and we know how to cater in their particular direction.”

Ross, who joined the Visualization Laboratory in February of this year, said the Beckman facility is a top resource for campus researchers wanting to visualize their work for journals. He also wants to add to the lab’s reputation as a go-to place for other scientific visualization needs, especially those involving 3-D applications and technologies. He believes his knowledge can help in that mission.

“I’ve done just about everything that is in that lab, which the exception of biomedical imaging software,” Ross said. “(The 3-D applications) are something I know really well and it’s something I want to see pushed as heavily as we can here, sort of like the way the lab uses Amira or other software for biomedical uses.

“That is the Vis Lab’s primary use right now, images that come from the microscopes downstairs. I don’t ever see that going away but I would like to see an expansion into 3-D technology because I don’t see any other lab on campus where it’s going to happen like it could happen here.”

Ross’s background includes a long stint in the film and television industry, doing 3-D computer modeling animation for visual effects; he also has experience with 2-D imaging and in using cameras for producing data.

“My agenda is to grow these technologies and make the Vis Lab something that the university looks to as an expert in this area,” Ross said. “I’ve used the technology for about 12 years so I know it pretty well. I worked in that all through entertainment, through engineering. I’ve worked for software companies, with hardware companies, consulting, training people. So it’s something I know really well and it’s something I want to see pushed here as heavily as we can.”

That includes increasing campus usage of the lab’s 3-D scanner and its 3-D printer, which is currently being utilized by a campus industrial design class.

I would like to see an expansion into 3-D technology because I don’t see any other lab on campus where it’s going to happen like it could happen here. – Travis Ross

“The printer is actually growing in popularity as we speak,” he said. “It’s industrial design, it’s artsy, and it’s perfect for that printer. The printer is a complement to the 3-D modeling and 3-D scanning technologies we want to push.

“In addition to that, I have a lot of background in optical devices, digital cameras, SLRs for producing data. Not just pretty pictures but more using the cameras to digitally reproduce 3-D objects; using a 2-D camera to create 3-D data.”

Ross also wants to expand opportunities for computer science researchers who are developing 3-D technology to use the facility.

“Whether it’s a game environment or creating a stereo imaging device or whatever, we have the technology here already,” he said. “They don’t need to buy anything.”

Ross is also hoping to add stereoscopic imaging to the Visualization Laboratory’s capabilities later this year. If that happens, it will add to an already impressive set of capabilities.

“We just have so many things in that lab,” Ross said. “We have great cameras, all the software applications, 3-D modeling tools, Amira, COMSOL, MATLAB. We have just this huge range of graphic software to super high-tech research software like COMSOL – we will probably never touch the limits of some of that software.

“When I give tours of the lab I say ‘this is not an ordinary computer lab.’ We don’t have computers with just Word or Photoshop. You sit down at one computer and you have tools that are capable of editing photos or videos all the way up to simulating the structural integrity of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s very versatile.”