Geochemical processes go high-tech in 3-D, interactive project

Dec 02, 2008
Geochemical processes go high-tech in 3-D, interactive project

(PhysOrg.com) -- They occur constantly, are largely invisible but affect everything from energy supplies and soil erosion to water pollution.

Now the Center for Environmental Kinetics Analysis (CEKA) has made visible many of those fundamental geochemical processes through a 3-D, interactive educational “movie.” The project, called “Slices of Time,” allows viewers to “see” examples of geochemical processes that occur at 14 different time scales from years and hours to seconds and even smaller.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

“We wanted something that would be immersive, interactive, educational and fun,” said Brantley, who also directs the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI) and is a distinguished professor of geosciences. “And we wanted something that could convey the immense complexity of time scales that operate at the Earth’s surface.”

It was up to Chuck Anderson, visualization and outreach specialist with the center, to make it happen. That took about three years and involved technical help from the University’s GEaRS (Graduate Education and Research Services) Visualization Group as well as from more than a dozen CEKA faculty and graduate students.

Students played a big role. Tim Fischer and Andy Wall, graduate students in geosciences, co-wrote the script with Wall also serving as narrator. And a CEKA-supported undergraduate got in the act: Andy Greenwood, who was on campus in summer 2005 as part of the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, wrote the music.

Deciding to use time steps was perhaps the easiest part, Anderson said.

“Then we had to figure out how to do that and learn the software that would allow us to do what we wanted,” Anderson said. “The technical challenges were significant — in one segment, for instance, we had to find a way to show in minutes the chemical processes that result in the formation of river valleys that take millions of years.”

At the other end of the time scale, the group had to slow down electron movement measured in attoseconds — or quintillionths of a single second. For comparison, in the time it took to read this sentence, billions and billions of attoseconds have passed.

One of the advantages of creating this interactive computer application is flexibility. Because the audio is separate from the video, making a Spanish or other language version is simplified, Anderson said.

Likewise, any of the 14 time slices can be updated to reflect new data or expanded to fit the needs of individual instructors or museums. Even new time periods can be added fairly easily. One possibility: Including milliseconds, for instance.

“We designed ‘Slices of Time’ to be useful for teachers — to supplement lesson plans or enhance curriculum,” said Anderson, who envisions another project, “Time Scales of Climate Change.”

NSF’s Covert was so impressed with the project and its potential for communicating complex science a special showing at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., has been scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 2.

“This shows one of the advantages of funding a center,” Covert said. “Centers can tackle the large projects that an individual can’t do.”

Provided by Penn State

Explore further: NASA balloons begin flying in Antarctica for 2014 campaign

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Wild molecular interactions in a new hydrogen mixture

Oct 20, 2014

Hydrogen—the most abundant element in the cosmos—responds to extremes of pressure and temperature differently. Under ambient conditions hydrogen is a gaseous two-atom molecule. As confinement pressure ...

Recommended for you

Scientists make strides in tsunami warning since 2004

22 hours ago

The 2004 tsunami led to greater global cooperation and improved techniques for detecting waves that could reach faraway shores, even though scientists still cannot predict when an earthquake will strike.

Trade winds ventilate the tropical oceans

23 hours ago

Long-term observations indicate that the oxygen minimum zones in the tropical oceans have expanded in recent decades. The reason is still unknown. Now scientists at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.