When most scientists present their data, they tend to use traditional data visualization tools like bar graphs and other charts. New digital technology has broadened the scope of the possible to create active, dynamic ways to interact with data.
Computational scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) created 3-D visualizations with help from an outside source—a Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI) student. SULI, one of several U.S. Department of Energy Workforce Development Teacher Scientist programs, brings outstanding undergraduate students from across the United States to national laboratories and partners them with researchers to work on cutting-edge science.
Lilianne Callahan, the SULI intern and a senior physics major from the University of California, Santa Cruz, spent 10 weeks over the summer of 2020 working with Joseph Hardin and others from PNNL’s Atmospheric Sciences and Global Change (ASGC) Division creating new 3-D models of convective cloud evolution. She helped convert the 2-D data obtained by the Cloud, Aerosol, and Complex Terrain Interactions (CACTI) field campaign—conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement user facility—into 3-D videos.
Visualizing data in three-dimensions
The CACTI campaign collected data from mountainous northern Argentina, a region known for its massive and intense thunderstorms. Involving over 200 scientists from across the globe, it produced unique slice-style images that provide information on updrafts and other important storm-related data.
Callahan took these atmospheric slices and used several bits of starter Python code to convert them into striking animations, a remarkable feat in just 10 short weeks. Callahan faced the challenge head on, immersing herself in atmospheric science and convection data while learning new coding skills.
The videos clearly show storms moving over the mountain range combined with brief text explaining the processes for a general audience. Combined, these tell the story of the storms in a way accessible to a wide and varied audience from atmospheric scientists to the curious public.
Bringing SULI interns to PNNL
This project represents the caliber of work produced by the roughly 100 annual SULI interns at PNNL. Staff at PNNL who want to become mentors can request a student based on their research interests. To learn more about becoming a SULI intern, or to apply, more information can be found at the program website.
Nicole Castilleja Bentley, from the Office of STEM Education who manages the SULI program at PNNL, says, “The extraordinary work that comes from bringing together top-notch students and committed mentors demonstrates the unique opportunities presented by the SULI program. These students really become a part of the team here at PNNL.”