Michigan Engineering News

This image from Tomviz 1.0 depicts a hyperbranched particle with complex nanostructure.

An upgrade for open-source, 3-D nanoscale imaging software

Tomviz 1.5 dramatically reduces the time it takes to create a 3-D visualization.

The first open-source software that lets researchers create and share 3-D nanoscale imagery is closing in on 10,000 downloads and its developers have released a more powerful, updated version. Get the update.

Tomviz, originally released in 2017, enables researchers to  easily create 3-D images from electron tomography data, then share and manipulate those images in a single platform. It could usher in advances in the fields of semiconductors, metal alloys and other technologies that require researchers to work at scales of 100 nanometers or less.

Tomviz 1.5 speeds the visualization process further by making it possible for users to adjust visualizations as they’re being created and to see those adjustments in real time. This is an improvement from previous versions, where users couldn’t see changes until an entire image was complete.

The feature can dramatically reduce the time it takes to create a 3-D visualization, says Robert Hovden, the University of Michigan assistant professor of materials science and engineering who worked with open-source software maker Kitware to build the new tool.

“Image visualizations often require a series of tweaks to optimize their quality, and a complete image can take hours or days to generate,” he said. “Version 1.5 make this adjustment process much faster by enabling researchers to see and adjust partial images.”

The world of nanoscale materials—things 100 nanometers and smaller—is an important place for researchers who are designing the stuff of the future: Seeing in 3-D how nanoscale flecks of platinum arrange themselves in a car’s catalytic converter, for example, or how spiky dendrites can cause short circuits inside lithium-ion batteries, could spur everything from safer, longer-lasting batteries to lighter, more fuel efficient cars and more powerful computers.

Tomviz solves a key challenge: the difficulty of interpreting data from electron microscopes that examine nanoscale objects in 3-D. The machines shoot electron beams through nanoparticles from different angles. The beams form projections as they travel through the object, a bit like nanoscale shadow puppets.

Once the machine does its work, it’s up to researchers to piece hundreds of shadows into a single three-dimensional image. It’s as difficult as it sounds—an art as well as a science. Like staining a traditional microscope slide, researchers often add shading or color to 3-D images to highlight certain attributes.

Traditionally, they’ve have had to rely on a hodgepodge of proprietary software to do the heavy lifting. The work is expensive and time-consuming; so much so that even big companies like automakers struggle with it. And once a 3-D image is created, it’s often impossible for other researchers to reproduce it or to share it with others.

Tomviz changes that with an open platform that dramatically simplifies the process and reduces the amount of time and computing power needed to make it happen, its designers say. It also enables researchers to readily collaborate by sharing all the steps that went into creating a given image and enabling them to make tweaks of their own.

Tomviz 1.5 is available for download at www.tomviz.com. Support for the project was provided by the Department of Energy Office of Science. A list of the Tomviz development team and source code is available on GitHub.

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