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Magali Billen inside the KeckCAVES.Although I’m a geophysicist who never really looked at geology until graduate school, by the time I became a professor at UC Davis I had gained enough experience to be considered qualified to teach an advanced structural geology course for a couple of years. It was during those years that I gained an appreciation for just how challenging it can be to masters the skills necessary to be a good structural geologist – recognizing rocks, measuring orientations of features in the field, finding oneself (and the outcrop) on a map, placing structural information on maps, and then finally, deriving meaning from all these observations to determine 3D shape of the deformed structures, most of which have been eroded away or are in beneath the exposed topographic surface. 

The good news is that students can learn 3D visualization skills through practice, and virtual tools can help provide some of that practice. 

At the same time I was lucky to be a member of the KeckCAVES (Keck Center for Active Visualization in the Earth Sciences) and saw for myself the power of analyzing research data in 3D virtual reality environments.

These experiences helped me to recognize the need for more practice visualizing 3D geologic structures, so I proposed to develop 3D visualization tools in the National Science Foundation (NSF) Career grant, which I was awarded in 2008.

Magali Billen
Professor of Geophysics
Earth and Planetary Sciences Department
UC Davis








The 3DVisualizer software (used to explore the data and make the movies) was developed and is maintained by Dr. Oliver Kreylos, who is a project scientist in KeckCAVES at UC Davis.

Undergraduate Jessie Saunders made the initial structure data sets (anticlines, synclines, folds, dipping layers), made the movies for these structures, and helped to make the Rule-of-Vs exercise. After graduating from UC Davis in 2013, Jessie went on to graduate school at UC San Diego.

Professor Mike Oskin (Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at UC Davis) provided the digital topography data.

Janice Fong (Principal Illustrator, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, UC Davis) gets all the credit for making a great website and inspiring me to make more aesthetically-pleasing scientific figures and drawings.