Celestial Mechanics Group

William Davis - Summer '08 REU in Mathematics

Student Head of the Celestial Mechanics Group
Last edited by: William Davis - July 29, 2008 - wldavis2@illinois.edu

The Celestial Mechanics Group

The Celestial Mechanics Group of the Summer '08 REU in Mathematics under the direction of Dr. George K. Francis is a student group with the common interest and goal of improved visualizations of celestial mechanics and phenomena.

The first project of such goals began during the Spring of 2008, in Dr. Francis' Math 198 course, in which I attempted to create a modern orrery - in simplest terms, a model of our solar system - in the virtual environments that reside in the Beckman Research Institute at the University of Illinois. That project is just now coming to fruition as we are launching a few more endeavors to enable accurate visualization of celestial mechanics. These include porting a FOSS application entitled Celestia into the virtual environments, and integrating CUDA into the virtual environments

Unfortunately, as our beloved virtual environments are scheduled to be dismantled, Chase Boren and I have also set out to simulate the Cube and Cave environments right here in the REU lab by setting up a dynamic Syzygy cluster in the lab, running natively on the Macs.

More information is available on each of these projects by using the navigation bar to the left. Enjoy!

-William Davis


June 23, 2008 - PySZG Setup, First Draft
PySZG Setup PDF(~60.9 KB)
PySZG Setup TeX(~8.6 KB)

July 10, 2008 - PySZG Setup, Second Draft
Updated environment setup process to be more robust
Fixed typographical errors in environment variables in the Cleaning Up section

PySZG Setup PDF(~62.9 KB)
PySZG Setup TeX(~9.9 KB)

Summer Highlights

These are a few of the projects and accomplishments from this summer:

PySZG with Mac OS X 10.5

I was able to get the PySZG bindings up and running on the Macs in the REU Lab, with help from Jim Crowell. These bindings allow Syzygy programs to be written in Python on the Macs, using the installation of Syzygy that Stuart Levy has patched for the Darwin kernel.

Mac OS X 10.5 Syzygy Cluster

Chase Boren and I were able to set up multiple Syzygy Computer Clusters on the Macs in the REU Lab. Chase later took the same ideas and set up a Windows Syzygy Cluster for our use. This was useful because the current virtual environments run on Windows XP.

CUDA-to-CAVE Communication (baREUcuda)

Chase Boren, Abdul Dakkak, and I worked vigorously on a project in the middle of the REU to use a CUDA-capabale nVidia Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) as a computational server for Syzygy Virtual Environment applications. Between the three of us, we formulated a method for transferrin data over a network from a CUDA server to a Syzygy application without the hassle of compiling CUDA code with Syzygy code.

Celestial Mechanics Projects

This project area encompasses a couple smaller accomplishments, including many improvements and additions to the illiSol program, the creation of a small program to help me understand Keplerian Elements, and an introductory paper to the broad field of celestial mechanics, which is available for download in the illiSol section. While the last one is not work done with the REU, persay, it is the result of an individual study course that Dr. Francis has mentored me in.


I had the pleasure of working with Stuart Levy of the NCSA in translating his useful Partiview application into Syzygy code that can be run in the virtual environments. With Stuart's programming prowess, we are now able to view most Partiview data sets in the virtual environments, controlling the applications via telnet, also a product of the NCSA. You can see more of this in the Partiview section.