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Digging Deeper, Seeing Farther: Supercomputers Alter Science

By John Markoff

The New York Times

April 25, 2011

 

Inside a darkened theater a viewer floats in a redwood forest displayed with Imax-like clarity on a cavernous overhead screen.

The hovering sensation gives way to vertigo as the camera dives deeper into the forest, approaches a branch of a giant redwood tree, and then plunges first into a single leaf and then into an individual cell. Inside the cell the scene is evocative of the 1966 science fiction movie “Fantastic Voyage,” in which Lilliputian humans in a minuscule capsule take a medical journey through a human body.

There is an important difference — “Life: A Cosmic Journey,” a multimedia presentation now showing at the new Morrison Planetarium here at the California Academy of Sciences, relies not just on computer animation techniques, but on a wealth of digitized scientific data as well.

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