Shared licensing brings powerful data visualization tool to Purdue researchers

  • September 28, 2011
  • Science Highlights

When entomology Professor Jeffrey Holland’s class wanted to find out how changing the size and increasing the isolation of a landscape affects its ability to host 15 insect species ranging from butterflies to wasps, the researchers built a 3-D picture of the process with Avizo.

This powerful, yet easy-to-use tool for visualizing data is now available to Purdue researchers under a shared license partnership involving faculty members and the Envision Center for Data Perceptualization, ITaP’s data visualization and virtual reality facility.

Avizo is a popular software title for 3-D rendering of a variety of types of science and engineering research, including finite element and fluid dynamics models and magnetic resonance imaging scans, as well as some spatially oriented data types.

Purdue researchers in aeronautics and astronautics, forestry, horticulture and landscape architecture, hydraulics, and other fields already are using the software for purposes ranging from better understanding plant organ growth and behavior to developing piezoelectric batteries.

Faculty members interested in a test drive of Avizo to see whether it meets their needs can contact David Braun at

While Avizo is versatile, powerful and capable of producing intricate graphics, it isn’t difficult for a new user to start using right away.

“It is a first, entry-level tool that gets people up and going,” says Braun, an ITaP research computing specialist who directs the Envision Center.

In addition, Avizo supports numerous data types and is cross platform, with support for Windows, Mac OS and Linux. Visualizations also can be shared remotely for online collaboration and explored in multi-walled virtual environments like the one at the Envision Center.

“Avizo is usually a good first step in visualizing data,” says Leif Delgass, an ITaP senior software engineer who assists Purdue researchers with visualization projects.

The disadvantage: the software costs thousands of dollars. Braun got the idea for a shared license when he began working with aeronautics and astronautics Professor Kathleen Howell. The idea is to make Avizo more readily available to researchers at Purdue and also at Purdue Calumet.

“One way to cut costs is to share,” Braun says. “When Professor Howell is not using it, someone else can be using it. We keep it busy by sharing.”

Howell says she and her graduate students selected Avizo after considering a number of options to enhance her lab’s visualization capabilities. Among other things, she uses Avizo to build course materials for a 3-D projection-enabled classroom that faculty and ITaP partnered to create in Purdue’s Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering.

“Particularly in my discipline, I believe that visualization can expand understanding and improve design capabilities,” says Howell, whose research focuses on such topics as spacecraft dynamics and control.

Purdue Calumet shares the Avizo license through funding from the Northwest Indiana Computational Grid, says John Moreland, senior research scientist at Calumet’s Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation (CIVS).

Faculty and students at the center have employed the software for such projects as simulations of mixing tanks used in the steel industry to cleanse impurities from iron ore and simulations of the flow within scrubbers used to clean industrial emissions before they’re released back to the environment.

Writer: Greg Kline, science and technology writer, Information Technology at Purdue (ITaP), 765-494-8167 (office), 765-426-8545 (mobile),

Last updated: Sept. 28, 2011

Originally posted: September 28, 2011