Physics Today - front cover

My work is on the cover of "Physics Today" (March 2010 Vol 63, Iss 3, pp.8-80)! The featured article is " Universal insights from few-body land" which starts on pg 40 (check it out!). I worked closely with JILA Fellow Chris Greene with the data for the cover image and I used Seth Rittenhouse's POV-Ray data files. This is my first Physics Today cover.

cover caption: "The four cobralike forms here represent one view of a wavefunction for a collision between two weakly bound dimers composed of fermionic atoms. The calculations underlying the figure are at the forefront of theoretical work that explores universal properties in few-body systems—that is, features that are independent of the details of particle interactions. Chris Greene’s article, beginning on page 40, surveys universal physics in few-body systems, from a startling prediction offered in 1970 to recent theoretical and experimental advances."

Chris Greene came to me in October to talk to me about helping him make the cover image for submission to Physics Today. We discussed several ideas and processes, but there were some factors that I had work around. The main one was that I was already working several other projects for some other Fellows, the deadline for PT submission was soon, and Chris's project involved a lot of 3D work (which are never quick projects to do). Even though these factors were daunting at the beginning of the project, I was super excited about it. I never work with his 3D data before and I thought Chris's and Seth's original models were interesting representations of their research. The idea was just weird enough that I had to do it. It has Cobras!!? naturally im into it and I couldn't pass up this opportunity. (shout out to my GDC crew!!!)

The project started with Chris giving me the POV-Ray files and showing me what he was doing with them. You can check out the older renderings of the cobras here. The POV-Ray model data files were Seth Rittenhouse's. Seth was graduate student at JILA, but I didn't realize he finished his thesis and was now at Cambridge, MA when I emailed him about doing some data re-renderings. He mentioned that files I was working with took 1.5 weeks to process (pure continuous processing on a pretty fast computer cluster at JILA (i think)). So doing some re-processing of the given models wasn't going to work with the time frame that I was working in.

Production Notes:
I work with a lot different 3D environments and softwares, but I typically avoided using POV-Ray. POV-Ray (Persistence of Vision Raytracer) is a great open source command line driven render, but I would rather work in more robust 3D package like Maya that have some great standard renders and mentalRay (i typically like to render with MentalRay if i can). Don't get me wrong, you can definitely render some beautiful things with POV-Ray, but it takes a veteran 3D coder (the recent versions of POV-Ray have been really impressive since the last time I checked out POV-Ray in 2004.) Also POV-Ray is primarily a render and lacks other functions that a lot of other 3D software come standard with (part of the beauty and downfalls of POV-Ray). The work flow of POV-Ray immediate brought back memories of me coding/modeling with OpenGL environment back in 2004. At the beginning I was working with POV-Ray's script files and I was getting some good results (I was running it on both the PC and Mac environments), but the work flow was really tedious and not efficient use of time to master POV-Ray's rendering commands and work flow process. I needed a better work flow that could use POV-Ray files and that could make some great renderings with a lot of easy to change controls. So I decided I need to incorporate Maya in this work flow which meant I needed to export/convert the model data. So I spent a lot of time reading forums about other people trying this and it appears that its not the easiest thing to do (or that common with the Maya and POV-ray communities). There weren't a lot of scripts or programs that would do this well (and cheap as in free). I was checking this software called Moray (which is kinda of GUI interface for POV-Ray), but it didn't really have what I needed. Then I found this program called 3DWin. At first 3DWin didn't look that promising or if it did do it, it was going to make the model come out looking like garbage. But I was surprised and super excited that it converted the model data pretty well (i still had do some operations to it). Now I was able to work in Maya's 3D environment. Unfortunately it took a while to convert the files and a lot of the rendering techniques and processes I was planning on working on for this project was going to take too long. So the final rendering that PT selected is hybrid of mutliple renderings using POV-Ray and Maya. I am glad I was able to work pretty closely with POV-Ray and actually incorporate it my work flow process of making a pretty good rendering.

I want to thank for Seth and Chris for the original files and for letting me work on this project. The project deadlines originally took place in October, and after a few months of not hearing back from PT, I was little worried we wouldn't get our submission selected for the cover. Physics Today has a pretty wide circulation and some pretty amazing past cover imagery. Physics Today's covers are pretty competitive to get and I am really happy that Chris and Seth's research was selected as the cover feature.

  • Clients: Chris Greene and Seth Rittenhouse

  • Related Links: Physics Today - March 2010, JILA Research Highlight article