Statement of Stuart Levy

I'm a computer programmer, working in an artist-led group which does scientific visualization for public outreach.

I'm also an amateur astronomer, with some undergraduate background in physics, and with a passion for outreach.

I enjoy astrophysical storytelling, from the origins of dust grains in the atmospheres of old stars, to the shapes of galaxies, to the recognition of the accelerating expansion of the universe which made cosmology finally fit together, at the expense of knowing that our universe is dominated by something we don't understand at all.

I admire Guy Ottewell's geometric approach to expressing relationships across scales of space and time. In talking about astronomical objects, we can do better than to present them merely as beautiful pictures on the sky. People can learn to see them as systems with their own motions and histories, evolving through their own physical processes. Maybe they can come to identify with them, and think of them as co-participants in the universe.

Computer graphics can be some help in this, in supporting physical understanding, and showing beauty in ways that human eyes can't see. But there is no substitute for spending time under a clear dark sky.


Since 1997 I have been a Senior Research Programmer at the Advanced Visualization Lab at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

The AVL, led by artist Donna Cox, is a mixed group of artists and programmers. The group's work takes various sorts of scientific data - often astrophysical or meteorological simulations - and creates high quality animations aimed at the public, as for films or planetarium shows.

My work - besides helping convert scientists' data into forms our tools can use, and extending some of our software as projects need it - can also include assisting as a bridge when we collaborate with physical scientists, especially astronomers. This might involve interpreting journal articles, aligning observed data using celestial coordinate systems, proposing physical quantities to visualize, helping judge whether our draft visualizations make physical sense, or suggesting how aspects of the situation could be presented in the script.


I'm the main author of Partiview, a simple desktop-based, open-source, multiplatform data visualization package aimed especially at particle-based data. The Hayden Planetarium adopted it as a platform for distributing their Digital Universe model. Several planetarium vendors have adopted its basic data format.

Astronomy Visualization

I've been an invited participant/speaker at several astronomical visualization conferences -


How does it look to watch a star cluster over its lifetime, as the individual stars move along their evolutionary tracks?

As an example bridging several interests, at the 2010 KICP workshop I created a model for and visualized the evolution of a small star cluster, with initial masses sampled from a Salpeter initial mass function, and using stellar evolution tracks computed with Bill Paxton's code EZ. The results are here including this movie (250MB). Some while later, I added stellar motions computed with Peter Teuben's NEMO N-body code and made this movie, adding an H-R diagram superimposed on the cluster. The whole thing was made using partiview, ImageMagick, and perl.