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Seller Spotlight: Salvatore Orlando

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About me

My name is Salvatore Orlando and I am an astrophysicist who works at the Astronomical Observatory of Palermo (OAPa), one of the research centers of the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF). I have long-term experience (> 20 years) in multidimensional modeling of astrophysical phenomena including:

  • The dynamics of magnetic structures in solar and stellar coronae.
  • The mass accretion process in young forming stars.
  • The evolution of nova explosions, transient phenomena that lead to the sudden appearance of a bright (apparently) new star (a nova).
  • The evolution of supernova explosions (the final fate of massive stars) and their outcome, supernova remnants.
  • The effects of the acceleration of cosmic ray particles on the evolution of supernova remnants.

As part of my research activity, I have developed hydrodynamic and magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) models, implemented with parallel numerical codes that run on High Performance Computing (HPC) systems and Grid/HPC infrastructures. I have also developed numerical tools for the synthesis of observables (e.g., thermal and non-thermal emission from astrophysical plasma) from models and coupled these tools with hydrodynamic and MHD codes.

My interest in 3D modeling combined with my passion for astrophysics has led me to develop skills in the field of 3D model visualization, virtual reality, and augmented reality in my spare time. Now I want to create a virtual universe in which I and other people have the ability to explore the structure and evolution of distant astrophysical objects that, otherwise, would be impossible to visit and, in some cases, to observe even with the most powerful telescopes in the world. I started 3D modeling combined with virtual and augmented reality in early 2019, using commonly applied tools for analyzing and visualizing scientific models (e.g., ParaView, Visit, IDL). Quickly, I learned about other tools mainly used to develop models for video games, science fiction movies, etc. (e.g., Unreal Engine, Blender, MeshLab, MeshMixer). Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time to learn and familiarize myself with these latest tools, so all of my current models have been developed with the tools I’m most familiar with.

If you want to know more about me, please visit my professional web page, my web page on ArtStation, where I publish scientific illustrations and visualizations of astrophysical phenomena and, of course, my Sketchfab page.

Scientific models (not for sale)

My first assets were the scientific models developed for professional scientific studies in astrophysics. They are based on sophisticated hydrodynamic and magnetohydrodynamic simulations produced by parallel numerical codes, using supercomputers made of thousands of CPUs hosted at international HPC facilities. In particular, I used: FLASH, a publicly available high-performance application code for computational physics developed at the Flash Center of the University of Chicago (USA), and PLUTO, a Godunov-type modular MHD code for astrophysical plasmas developed at the Department of Physics, University of Turin (Italy) in joint collaboration with INAF – Astronomical Observatory of Turin (Italy) and SCAI Department of CINECA (Italy). The HPC structures used for these studies were: Sistema di Calcolo per l’Astrofisica Numerica (SCAN, INAF-OAPA; Palermo, Italy), the Italian national HPC facility CINECA (Bologna, Italy), the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC, Barcelona, Spain) and the Centre Informatique National de l’Enseignement Supérieur (CINES, Montpellier, France).

In August 2019 I discovered Sketchfab and I immediately recognized the enormous potential of the platform for dissemination and communication activities. So, from scientific simulations, I started producing interactive 3D models that could be uploaded to Sketchfab. All these scientific models have been developed to illustrate some astrophysical phenomena and objects that have been studied by professional astrophysicists and to give everyone the opportunity to visit and explore them in virtual reality. If any of you are curious to know more about these models, you can take a look at the “Universe in hands” collection. An example of these models is shown above and illustrates the internal structure of a rather popular supernova remnant, called Cassiopeia A. Then, in collaboration with colleagues from INAF/OAPa, I launched 3DMAP-VR (3D Modeling of Astrophysical Phenomena in Virtual Reality), a project for viewing 3D MHD models of astrophysical simulations, using virtual reality devices. Indeed, fully 3D MHD simulations of astrophysical phenomena represent a challenge in visualizing standard data for scientific purposes, due to the amount of processed data and the wealth of scientific information they contain. 3DMAP-VR provides a framework for leveraging the capabilities of virtual reality hardware and software to visualize and analyze 3D scientific models.

Artist’s impressions of astrophysical objects (available on the Sketchfab Store!)

The assets derived from scientific simulations have been very successful during public outreach events and among non-experts. This positive reception encouraged me to go beyond numerical simulations. So I started creating new models based on my imagination, illustrating astrophysical objects but rigorously based on our current knowledge of these phenomena. The first collection of this new class of resources was “The art of Astrophysical Phenomena” where it is possible to visit and explore artists’ views of astrophysical phenomena and objects. Then I created two additional collections: “Anatomy of Astrophysical Objects” and “The Science of Science Fiction”. The first collection reports schematic representations of the structure of astrophysical objects based on our knowledge. The assets of the second collection spot famous science fiction movies to highlight whether and in which parts they get the science right (thus providing accurate and plausible science). Some of these assets can be purchased from my Sketchfab store! There, it is possible to buy assets that reproduce planets (such as Saturn with its rocky and dusty rings) or regions of star formation (nebulae with complex morphologies that populate the interstellar medium), or massive evolved stars, compact and energetic astrophysical objects (such as neutron stars), active galaxies and so on. I started selling my assets a few months ago, to test the interest of people in buying this kind of model. Some examples of these assets are shown in this page. One shows a low-mass X-ray binary, a class of binary stars consisting of a normal star and a degenerate compact object, a neutron star or a black hole.

Another model shows a star-forming region, a dense interstellar gas and dust cloud where stars are formed in large numbers in intervals of time of the order of a million years.

Another shows a young stellar object, a star accreting mass from the circumstellar disk made up of dense gas and dusty material.

The workflow for creating these models combines the use of the MeshMixer and MeshLab tools to model and create the meshes (for example, to create the landscape of alien planets) and the ParaView software to make the scene by combining different meshes and textures. The 3D representations of the models are made using a mixed technique consisting of multilayer isodensity surfaces with different opacities to quickly have a virtual reality representation of the models. Probably, the most difficult effect to be realized in these models is the diffuse semi-opaque gas and plasma that is ubiquitous in space (e.g., the interstellar clouds in star-forming regions). This is achieved through the creation of complex meshes in which the grid points are randomized and the faces of the meshes are intertwined; the gas effect is completed by selecting appropriate transparency of the faces of the meshes, according to some properties encoded in specific textures.

How my assets are used

I have no information on how my assets are used by people who have purchased them from the Sketchfab Store or who have downloaded freely available models. However, all of my assets are freely available to scientific and educational institutions upon request. In these cases, I have had the opportunity to monitor how they are used. Hence, I know that my resources are mainly used for dissemination purposes by international scientific institutes. For example, six of my assets were used by NASA to make a series of 3D visualizations of astronomical objects observed with X-ray observatories and 3D print kits have been produced for people with visual impairments. Other models illustrating five of the most popular supernova remnants in our Galaxy were used to build a standalone application called “StarBlast” which exploits the power of virtual reality for the dissemination and educational projects within the scientific activities of the international PHAROS project. The assets were also used to create a series of nine videos describing astrophysical objects and phenomena, available in Italian (SocialMente: condividiAMO l’universo) and in English (Universe in hands). Finally, other assets have been used to create exhibitions in public outreach events and others have been requested by private companies that make software for planetariums.

Why did you set up a store on Sketchfab?

I applied to become a seller over two years ago in 2020. I was initially just curious to see how the store system works. After some tests, in August 2021, I decided to start selling on the Sketchfab store. I was moved to do this after noticing hundreds of downloads for my assets that were free to download. So I decided to put some models in the store to see how many people were really interested and motivated to get them.

What makes the store unique?

I think my store is unique because it combines the fun of playing with models with the opportunity to learn more about astronomical objects and phenomena. In fact, all my models are complemented by a brief description of the astronomical object represented in the asset.

What features you find valuable as a seller?

I appreciate the simplicity with which the models can be shown in the store and the immediacy in transactions with the buyer.

Why Sketchfab?

After discovering Sketchfab in August 2019, I started testing the platform by uploading some of my models and sending the corresponding links to colleagues and interested people to get their opinion on the representation of the models and the impact of the virtual reality experience. The feedback was enthusiastic and this encouraged me to improve my models on Sketchfab and expand the number of models available through the platform. The reason why I use Sketchfab is mainly the ease of use, the high quality of the assets created and the inestimable efficiency in disseminating and communicating the work to the public through the platform.

I chose Sketchfab because of the very friendly environment. In Sketchfab I met many interesting and friendly people from whom I started learning how to improve my assets. I have been delighted with their works, stimulated to improve my assets and inspired by them for new models. For this I would like to thank the Sketchfab administrators (who encouraged me so much!) and all the people I am in contact with in Sketchfab.

What about the future?

I am thrilled with the results obtained with Sketchfab and want to improve my skills to produce better quality models. In the future I intend to expand the number of my assets to describe the more exotic and unusual astrophysical objects and the more complex processes that govern astrophysical phenomena. My wish is that the models I develop can be used by people to explore the universe and to learn more about astrophysics.

About the author

Salvatore Orlando

Astrophysicist at the INAF/OAPA, his main research activity is in the field of supernova remnants, young accreting stars and solar and stellar coronae.


  • Sasha Carvajal says:

    Thanks for reading about our seller spotlight , every Friday we have new content about the Sketchfab Store 🙂

  • Tycho Magnetic Anomaly says:

    very late to commenting on this, but this was a really fantastic article and great insight into your amazing cosmological demonstrations/art.
    I also really look forward to your future representations of more exotic phenomenon! 🙂

  • Salvo Orlando says:

    I have only now seen your comment. Thanks Tycho! I’m learning a lot from you and other cool people I met on Sketchfab!

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