Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics (TVCG)

Publication Date



This paper presents the Element Visualizer (ElVis), a new, open-source scientific visualization system for use with highorder finite element solutions to PDEs in three dimensions. This system is designed to minimize visualization errors of these types of fields by querying the underlying finite element basis functions (e.g., high-order polynomials) directly, leading to pixel-exact representations of solutions and geometry. The system interacts with simulation data through runtime plugins, which only require users to implement a handful of operations fundamental to finite element solvers. The data in turn can be visualized through the use of cut surfaces, contours, isosurfaces, and volume rendering. These visualization algorithms are implemented using NVIDIA’s OptiX GPU-based ray-tracing engine, which provides accelerated ray traversal of the high-order geometry, and CUDA, which allows for effective parallel evaluation of the visualization algorithms. The direct interface between ElVis and the underlying data differentiates it from existing visualization tools. Current tools assume the underlying data is composed of linear primitives; high-order data must be interpolated with linear functions as a result. In this work, examples drawn from aerodynamic simulations–high-order discontinuous Galerkin finite element solutions of aerodynamic flows in particular–will demonstrate the superiority of ElVis’ pixel-exact approach when compared with traditional linear-interpolation methods. Such methods can introduce a number of inaccuracies in the resulting visualization, making it unclear if visual artifacts are genuine to the solution data or if these artifacts are the result of interpolation errors. Linear methods additionally cannot properly visualize curved geometries (elements or boundaries) which can greatly inhibit developers’ debugging efforts. As we will show, pixel-exact visualization exhibits none of these issues, removing the visualization scheme as a source of uncertainty for engineers using ElVis