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NCSA Student Spotlight: Jasmine Shih

Jasmine Shih attended Urbana High school, and participated in the executive intern program during her senior year where she began working at NCSA on a web project when she was first inspired by the demos produced by the Advanced Visualization Lab (AVL).

Fast forward to her senior year at the University of Illinois, Jasmine is studying computer science and finishing her third year as an intern with NCSA’s AVL team. “I’ve grown in stages at AVL,” said Shih, “my skills have improved in terms of web development and I’ve definitely learned to collaborate through my internship here with the guidance of my mentors Jeff Carpenter, Kalina Borkiewicz, and AJ Christensen. The importance of collaboration was a big part of what I took away from my internship.”

Interested in computer graphics and user interface design, Jasmine has worked on developing websites for AVL, and is completing a senior research project using data sets from the ‘Formation of the Moon’ visualizations from the documentary produced by AVL, Birth of Planet Earth, in real time using the game engine, Unity. “This is relatively new, because people haven’t really started visualizing scientific data in game engines, however, I hope this approach will make it it more interactive and accessible to people,” said Shih.

“I had to figure out how to combat performance challenges to visualize data in a game engine. It’s particle data, and has over a million data points and over 3,000 time steps—it’s really huge,” Shih said. “Normally, AVL would run this through supercomputers—but we wanted to do it in real-time with a game engine, which takes a powerful computer… but we wanted to also make it accessible.”

Ultimately, Shih’s experiments used 1/6th of the total number of particles to produce the real-time visualization. “To update each frame in real-time with this many data points, we were able to test the graphics capabilities of Unity. We ended up overcoming the performance challenges by reducing the number of particles visualized and adjusting a few other elements to maintain a smooth frame rate while still preserving a high level of details,” Shih said.

Shih presented her work at the 2019 Engineering Open House at NCSA by setting up two different versions of her research project and surveying attendees about their user experiences of the visualizations.

“The research was a fresh experience for me. I had never done research before, and AJ and Kalina helped me a lot,” said Shih, “Working with AVL has been a great experience, and I hope more students can experience what NCSA has to offer.”

Jasmine plans to submit her research as a poster to the SIGGRAPH conference, where she hopes to present. Following her graduation in the spring, she has accepted a full-time position as a web developer with Yahoo! located in the University of Illinois Research Park.

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