promised by VE can be expected to make a significant difference in these investigations, with the potential to provide: the ability to quickly sample a datasets volume without cluttering the visualization; no penalty for investigating regions that are not expected to be of interest; and the ability to see the relationship between data nearby in space or time without cluttering up the visualization. In short, real-time interaction should encourage exploration.

Just as important, a natural, anthropomorphic three-dimensional VE-based interface can aid the unambiguous display of these structures by providing a rich set of spatial and depth cues. VE input interfaces allow the rapid and intuitive exploration of the volume containing the data, enabling the various phenomena at various places in that volume to be explored, as well as providing simple control of the visualization environment through controls integrated into the environment.

A properly constructed VE-based interface will require very little of the user's attention; it would be used naturally, using pointing and speech commands and directions rather than command-line text input. Someone using such an interface would see an unambiguous three-dimensional display. This would contrast with the current interaction paradigm in scientific visualization, which is based on text or two-dimensional input via graphical user interfaces and two-dimensional projections of three-dimensional scenes.

Specific Applications

VE systems for scientific visualization are in many ways like software packages for graphing: tools for displaying and facilitating the interpretation of large datasets. But it is too early to describe a single general-purpose VE system for scientific visualization. At the same time, a number of projects have demonstrated that VR does have significant application potential.

  • Aeronautical Engineering: The virtual wind tunnel (Bryson and Levit, 1992; Bryson and Gerald-Yamasaki, 1992) uses virtual reality to facilitate the understanding of precomputed simulated flow fields resulting from computational fluid dynamics calculations. The visualization of these computations may be useful to the designers of modern high-performance aircraft. The virtual wind tunnel is expected to be used by aircraft researchers in 1994 and provides a variety of visualization techniques in both single-user and remotely located multiple-user environments.

  • General Relativity: Virtual Spacetime (Bryson, 1992) is an extension of the virtual wind tunnel in which curved space-times, which are solutions

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