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Designing for Emerging Technologies by Jonathan Follett

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Chapter 7. Design Takes on New Dimensions: Evolving Visualization Approaches for Neuroscience and Cosmology

HUNTER WHITNEY

The Brain Is Wider Than the Sky

The Brain—is wider than the Sky—

For—put them side by side—

The one the other will contain

With ease—and You—beside—

EMILY DICKINSON, FROM THE BRAIN IS WIDER THAN THE SKY

The ability to perceive and understand the words you’re currently reading is made possible by signals flowing across synaptic junctions in your brain. In total, you have about 100 trillion of these synapses—a figure that exceeds all of the stars in the Milky Way galaxy. For most of us, that’s just an interesting statistic; for neuroscientists and cosmologists, those kinds of numbers are a part of their work environment. Both fields share other commonalities, as well. Whether it’s the activity patterns among nerve cells or the interactions of stars and black holes, both disciplines explore physical objects and systems that don’t easily lend themselves to direct observation and experimentation. Increasingly, interactive visualizations[113] such as that shown in Figure 7-1 can help people involved in these areas explore, analyze, and test the unimaginable.

A cosmic web of galaxies in a region of space 140 million light years across from a cosmological simulation run on NICS Kraken (courtesy Britton Smith)
Figure 7-1. A cosmic web of galaxies in a region of space 140 million light years across from a cosmological simulation run on NICS Kraken (courtesy Britton Smith)

Within the past few years, emerging technologies are starting ...

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