PLOT3D Team Awarded Fourth Largest-ever Prize By NASA Space Act Program
By Elisabeth Wechshler
The fourth largest Space Act Award in the history of the NASA program was
presented to Pieter Buning, research scientist in the Computational Technology
Branch of the Ames Fluid Dynamics Division, and three support staff members for
their work on PLOT3D. This software program is credited with revolutionizing
scientific visualization and analysis of three-dimensional Computational Fluid
Dynamics (CFD) solutions.
The $35.5K award recognized PLOT3D's substantial commercial potential,
proven cost savings, and innovation, said Paul Kutler, Chief, Fluid Dynamics
Division, who presented checks to the four recipients on May 9 at the NAS
Innovativeness and Commercial Use
Award submissions were judged by the NASA Headquarters Inventions and
Contributions Board to determine the technology's innovativeness and commercial
viability. Winners were eligible for cash awards ranging from $250 to $100,000.
In addition to Buning, who received $25,000, Pat Elson and Larry Pierce,
both of Sterling Software, and Pam Walatka, Computer Sciences Corp., each
received $3,500 for their work supporting the PLOT3D development.
Buning began writing PLOT3D in 1982. The PLOT3D team worked together from
1987 to 1992 under the direction of Val Watson, currently senior scientist in
the Fluid Dynamics Division. The software was released to
Software Technology Transfer Center, University of Georgia, in 1991.1
Linked Wind Tunnels, CFD Work
The impact of PLOT3D has been widespread and significant. One of its first
important contributions was "to establish a link between the experimental
(physical) solutions of wind tunnels and CFD simulations," Buning said. The
software, available on several computer platforms, has been used in a variety
of NASA and military aircraft, space, and missile programs, as well as in
PLOT3D is credited with enhancing the development of graphical workstation
technology "by demonstrating a sophisticated solution to an essential need in
the area of scientific visualization for complex flow field topologies,"
according to a NASA document describing the award.
Precursor of FAST
PLOT3D, as the precursor of FAST
Software Toolkit), has
contributed substantially to automobile aerodynamics, computational chemistry
applications, bio-fluids, hydrodynamics, atmospheric weather simulations, and
the petroleum industry.
PLOT3D can calculate any one of 74 grid, scalar, vector, particle-trace, and
shock-wave functions; output can be displayed on-screen from any angle,
printed, plotted, and animated, according to Walatka.
Although PLOT3D lacks a menu interface common in current-generation
visualization programs, its command-line interface is fairly straightforward to
learn and has allowed it to be ported to different machines more easily, Buning
Cost Savings are $12 Million So Far
Estimated cost savings to government and industry are $12 million to date,
with a projected $2 million a year in future savings, according to NASA.
Development costs were approximately $600,000.
Elson, currently NAS User Interface Manager, distributed PLOT3D beta test
code and helped with the documentation. Pierce, who last month rejoined the
Computational Technology Branch as programmer-analyst, served as technical
facilitator and user contact for PLOT3D, incorporating a number of enhancements
to the program, as well as directing the COSMIC submission. Walatka, technical
writer for the NAS Systems Development Branch, wrote the PLOT3D documentation.
reprinted from NASA
1The software has since been released to NTTC, and is being distributed by Open Channel Software (editor's note)