My research aims to advance the state-of-the-art in data visualization. While my early work was largely driven by scientific applications, since I joined UC Davis I have expanded the scope of my research to address challenges presented by a wide variety of real-world applications. I and my students have developed visualization solutions for assisting in making business strategies based on customer data, fighting crime, detecting and tracking intrusions for network security, understanding large-scale scientific research data, analysis of biomedical image data for better medical diagnosis and surgical planning, supercomputing resource management and performance optimization, and many others. My group introduces several new design concepts and technical approaches for solving complex visualization problems. One such concept is visualization is the interface (2000). Visualization is designed to let the user interact with the picture directly and concentrate on data exploration and interpretation tasks rather than on user interface artifacts. The interface should also enable reuse and sharing of collective visualization experience among users. We pioneer incorporating machine intelligence into the process of interactive volume data classification and visualization (2003). We also show how to use visualization for opening the black box to understand machine learing (2005). To support scientific studies with supercomputing at extreme scale, we show the feasibility of in situ visualization (1995), demonstrate computational steering of a large-scale scientific simulation (2006), and create novel designs for in situ visualization and analysis such as explorable images (2010) and importance/distance based methods (2015). The new visualization technologies my group introduces help drastically raise scientists' productivity by allowing them to verify their understanding and more effectively communicate and share with others their findings using visual means. We are presently pursuing a series of usability studies to further enhance the value of visualization technology in practical settings. We are also studying how to better support scientists to do storytelling from their research data. I continue to launch new threads of research in data visualization and for developing new visualization applications.

Specific research topic areas of interest include:

  1. Immersive Visualization

    The increasing quality and decreasing price of wearable VR devices inspires us to exploit the immersive space for data visualization and analysis. We are developing new immersive visualizaion applications, determining how to represent and lay out data in immersive space, and studying associated interaction problems. We also investigate the use of AR for collaborative visual analysis tasks.


    Improving Spatial Orientation in Immersive Environments, ACM SUI 2018 (to appear). Joseph Kotlarek, I-Chen Lin, and Kwan-Liu Ma
    A Study of Rendering, and Interaction Methods for Immersive Graph Visualization, IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, 22(7):1802—1815, 2016. Oh‑Hyun Kwon, Chris Muelder, Kyungwon Lee, and Kwan‑Liu Ma [pdf]
    Enabling Interactive Scientific Data Visualization and Analysis with See-through HMDs and a Large Tiled Display, in Proceedings of Workshop on Immersive Analytics, IEEE VR 2016. Ken Nagao, Yucong Ye, Chuan Wang, Issei Fujishiro, and Kwan-Liu Ma [pdf]

  2. Big Data Visualization

    Big Data Visualization

    We are entering a data-rich era. Advanced computing, imaging, and sensing technologies enable scientists to study natural and physical phenomena at unprecedented precision, resulting in an explosive growth of data. The size of the collected information about the Web and mobile device users is expected to be even greater. To make sense and maximize utilization of such vast amounts of data for knowledge discovery and decision making, we need a new set of tools beyond conventional data mining and statistical analysis. Visualization has been shown very effective in understanding large, complex data, and thus become an indispensable tool for many areas of research and practice. We have been developing new concepts to further advance the visualization technology as a powerful discovery and communication tool.

  3. In Situ Data Analysis, Reduction, and Visualization

    In Situ Data Analysis, Reduction, and Visualization

    The ability to do data triage and visualization during a simulation run becomes more and more essential as scientific supercomputing moves from terascale and petascale to exascle. We have been studying the feasibility and requirements of in situ processing over the past few years. In situ analysis and visualization is clearly on our national research roadmap, and many others are joining us in this very important direction.
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  4. Information Visualization

    Information Visualization and Visual Analytics

    Our research in information visualization focuses on very large graph visualization, visual data mining, social network analysis, software evolution, and computer security visualization. We are also interested in studying the information visualization aspect of scientific visualization problems.
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  5. Scientific Storytelling

    Scientific Storytelling

    We aim to add to existing visualization systems the support for storytelling using illustrative visualizations, animations, annotations, and sound.
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  6. Parallel & Distributed Visualization

    Parallel & Distributed Visualization

    Visualizing large, complex volume data demands parallel or Grid-based solutions. We intend to realize a fully parallelized visualization pipeline. We have developed scalable parallel rendering algorithms for a variety of volume data, designed highly efficient software and hardware image compositing solutions, and built clusters targeting large-scale visualization applications. Most of the performance studies have been done on the massively parallel computers operated at LANL, LBL, LLNL, and PSC.
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  7. User Interfaces

    Visualization Interfaces

    We develop visual interfaces that can help scientists keep track of their visualization experience and findings, use it to generate new visualizations, and share it with others. We also investigate how intelligent systems can assist sophisticated, time-consuming visualization tasks, and consequently simplify the user interfaces for performing the tasks.
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  8. Expressive Visualization

    Expressive Visualization

    We aim at improving the expressiveness of visualizations through the use of artistic inspired methods, non-photorealistic rendering techniques, and highly interactive user interfaces. Visualizations should be made by using the appropriate level of abstraction according to the purpose of visualization, and the visualizations should be perceptually effective to deliver the most relevant information in the data.
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  9. Volume Visualization

    Volume Visualization

    Volume data arises in a large subset of scientific, engineering, and biomedical applications. We aim to develop new methodologies for more efficient and effective volume segmentation and visualization.
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  10. Time-Varying Volume Data Visualization

    Time-Varying Volume Data Visualization

    Time-varying data visualization presents some unique challenges. Our goal is to drastically improve the interactivity and explorability of large-scale, time-varying data visualization through the study and development of innovative data reduction methods, rendering and interaction techniques, and system integration strategies tailored to the characteristics of several representative leading-edge applications. Check out our new NSF ITR project.
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Current research projects are sponsored by Chengying/Alibaba, Bosch Research, HP Labs, Nokia Research, AT&T Labs, NSF BigData, NSF FODAVA, NSF PetaApps, NSF HECURA, NSF CyberTrust, DOE ASCR. DOE SciDAC, DOE BER, and Air Force STTR.