Turning information into knowledge
Dr Yathu Sivarajah began his research career in geophysics, focusing on how people interact with complex datasets, and particularly in quantifying human–data interactions to understand the techniques used by experts in analysing complex datasets. He subsequently joined the Pawsey visualisation team, and worked on a range of projects supporting remote visualisation, large-scale display systems and virtual reality. He now leads the visualisation team, and helps other researchers with their large-scale scientific data visualisations.
“It’s one thing to generate a large dataset with lots of information about a particular research problem,” says Yathu, “but as the datasets get bigger, understanding what they really mean – seeing the patterns, the trends, the connections – becomes more difficult. The visualisation team helps our users gain insights from their data, which helps them to understand what is really going on in their research. Good visualisations also help the researchers present their findings in a clear and understandable form to others.”
Working with experts from a range of research domains and often crossing disciplinary boundaries, it is a regular challenge for Yathu to learn about users’ specific research and data problems, and understand their visualisation needs. He then draws on techniques developed across traditionally data-intensive domains to create useful representations of their data for analysis.
“Almost all of our projects require cross-team collaboration across Pawsey. It enables us to achieve the best outcomes for our users, but at the same time helps us to share knowledge and learn from the many other experts within Pawsey. My team may know a lot about data visualisation, but we can also tap into expertise here about the characteristics, structure and subtleties of bioinformatics data, or radio astronomical data, or dynamic modelling data, for example.”
Each day brings different visualisation challenges, admits Yathu, but that’s what he likes the most about working at Pawsey: “It’s really rewarding to be a collaborative part of so many different research outcomes. Especially when I can work with a researcher who hasn’t traditionally used HPC, and help them gain so much more insight from their data.”
Yathu is particularly proud of the development of Pawsey’s web-based remote visualisation service. “Our users can now remotely visualise their large-scale data via the web, without having to copy the data to their local computer. Using our dedicated nodes and high-end graphics cards, they can use their laptops, and even their mobile devices, to explore their data.”
Yathu is seeing firsthand how HPC is diversifying into new areas of research across Australia, and can only see this progressing into a much broader day-to-day uptake of HPC across the wider research community. He looks forward to helping even more researchers understand and interpret the wealth of information they now have at their fingertips. “Between developing remote visualisation, visualisation on large-scale display systems, and continuing to explore how people can best interact with these massive datasets, I’ll be staying just as busy as our researchers are, extracting meaning from ‘the matrix’.”