Video game engine powers radiation visualizations — GCN
The video game engine supports radiation visualizations
Researchers at Oak View National Laboratory use video game development software to visualize data related to the movement of radiation.
Mike Smith, a nuclear space systems engineer, and Scott Greenwood, a member of the reactor systems modeling and safety analysis team, use datasets originally created for ORNL to analyze NASA radioisotope power systems to create a unique toolkit combined 3D -Radiation transport results with CAD geometries (Computer Aided Design). These techniques can be used to inform the design phase of a nuclear project or to communicate radiation results as per a laboratory announcement.
An attempt to visualize and communicate radiation fields in a technical way, allowing humans to draw both qualitative and quantitative conclusions from computational data from the 1950s, Smith said. However, this is difficult because the visualization of radiation data is multi-dimensional and is influenced by interactions with physical materials.
To study the radiation effects of a geometry – something that represents a space, such as a room or spacecraft in which someone is performing a radiological process – a particle transport model of that space must be run to determine the effects of radiation on that geometry. This includes how external environments such as entering another planet’s atmosphere can affect it.
Smith and Greenwood take a known geometry, draw a new model in the radiative transport software and get a result that is represented as a Monte Carlo simulation and shows possible outcomes. With the toolkit, they can now take the CAD geometry of a room, do the calculations, and then overlay those results back on the original to show how the radiation data is mapped back to real three-dimensional space, Smith said.
They use open source software from Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, which is focused on creating realistic environments. You generate the simulation data and store it in formats that can be exported to Unreal Engine. There they can view them, although they think it is best for the situation at hand.
A video demonstration of their work visualizes how the Mars Curiosity Rover is exposed to neutron and gamma emissions on Mars. The radiation field spreads around the rover in graduated aqua tones to show the total amount, and then the image rotates to show the radiation in all directions.
Existing radiation visualization tools are not easy to understand for the non-nuclear community, although other audiences may need access to the data.
“When we’re trying to communicate an invisible radiation field and its effects and impact on technology, the saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ goes a long way,” said Smith. “If you can show a group of highly intelligent technicians with no nuclear background an effective representation of what is happening and how it feels about their technology, I believe it can help streamline tech communications in the long run. “
In addition, their work can be replicated for use outside the nuclear community. Whenever someone has a number that represents a magnitude or intensity of a value that corresponds to a spatial coordinate – like thermal information – it can be mapped, he said.
The researchers have been working on the toolkit for about 18 months. They recently won an in-house research project that allows them to use the infrastructure they have developed for visualization in general and mapping data to extended realities.
“If we could streamline a process and package a method, if other people could use those techniques, I’d say that is a big goal,” said Smith. “We want this to be the new norm for the future. I think for the 21st century, the nuclear industry and the particle transport field in that industry are currently a bit lagging behind in terms of data visualization techniques and could really benefit from these visualization techniques. “
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in Northern Virginia.