A colorful career

April 2023
Filed under: Argonne
Argonne’s Joe Insley combines art and computer science to build intricate images and animations from supercomputer simulations.


This video includes a collage of images and a supernova simulation animation while Insley describes his approach to his art. A longer conversation about his work and thoughts on scientific visualization’s future is available from the podcast Science in Parallel.

As a Northern Illinois University undergraduate, Joe Insley considered majoring in computer science while taking art classes on the side. But then he fell in love with computer graphics and chose to pursue a fine arts degree in electronic media. His career path ever since has kept one foot in art and the other in computing. 

He ultimately completed a master of fine arts and a computer science master’s at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Today he leads the visualization and data analysis team at Argonne Leadership Computing Facility and is an associate professor in the School of Art and Design at Northern Illinois University. There, he trains the next generation of digital artists and exposes them to scientific visualization.

Insley’s also the first guest in the new season of the podcast Science in Parallel that launches this month.

While still a graduate student, Insley got his big break in scientific visualization working with Dan Sandin. Sandin was a co-inventor of the CAVE (cave automatic virtual environment), an immersive space that allows researchers to manipulate their models from within. An early project was visualizing the paisley-like patterns of mathematical Julia sets. “I think it was just exposure to it,” Insley says. “I met the right people at the right time.” That led to a position at Argonne National Laboratory in 1997 even as he continued his graduate studies. He’s been at Argonne ever since.

In the intervening years, he’s worked on dozens of projects, capturing molecular movement, the expanding universe, combustion’s turbulence, human blood flow and more. Besides helping scientists interpret their work, his team’s images have appeared in multimedia displays and been featured in articles and on journal covers.

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About the Author

Sarah Webb is science media editor at the Krell Institute. She’s managing editor of DEIXIS: The DOE CSGF Annual and producer-host of the podcast Science in Parallel. She holds a Ph.D. in chemistry, a bachelor’s degree in German and completed a Fulbright fellowship doing organic chemistry research in Germany.

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