 
Behind most of the impressive telescopic images that capture events at
the depths of the cosmos is a lot of work and computing power. The raw
data from many instruments are not vivid enough even for experts to
have a chance at understanding what they mean without the use of
highly complex imaging algorithms. A simple radio telescope scans the
sky and provides long series of numbers. Networks of radio telescopes
act as interferometers and measure the spatial vibration modes of the
brightness of the sky rather than an image directly. Spacebased gamma
ray telescopes identify sources by the pattern that is generated by
the shadow mask in front of the detectors. There are sophisticated
algorithms necessary to generate images from the raw data in all of
these examples. The same applies to medical imaging devices, such as
computer tomographs and magnetic resonance scanners.
Previously each of these imaging problems needed a special computer
program that is adapted to the specifications and geometry of the
survey area to be represented. But many of the underlying concepts
behind the software are generic and ideally would just be programmed
once if only the computer could automatically take care of the
geometric details.
With this in mind, the researchers in Garching have developed and now
released the software package NIFTY that makes this possible. An
algorithm written using NIFTY to solve a problem in one dimension can
just as easily be applied, after a minor adjustment, in two or more
dimensions or on spherical surfaces. NIFTY handles each situation
while correctly accounting for all geometrical quantities. This allows
imaging software to be developed much more efficiently because testing
can be done quickly in one dimension before application to higher
dimensional spaces, and code written for one application can easily be
recycled for use in another.
NIFTY stands for "Numerical Information Field Theory". The relatively
young field of Information Field Theory aims to provide recipes for
optimal mapping, completely exploiting the information and knowledge
contained in data. NIFTY now simplifies the programming of such
formulas for imaging and data analysis, regardless of whether they
come from the information field theory or from somewhere else, by
providing a natural language for translating mathematics into
software.
The NIFTY software release is accompanied by a publication in which
the mathematical principles are illustrated using examples (see
Figures 1 & 2). In addition, the researchers provide an extensive
online documentation. The versatility of NIFTY has already been
demonstrated in an earlier scientific publication on nonlinear signal
reconstruction and will certainly be helpful in developing better and
more accurate imaging methods in astronomy, medical technology and
earth observation.
Background information:
NIFTY has been developed by Marco Selig, Michael Bell, Henrik
Junklewitz, Niels Oppermann, Martin Reinecke, Carlos Pachajoa, Maksim
Greiner and Torsten Enßlin at the Max Planck Institute for
Astrophysics. Marco Selig, the main developer, is currently a PhD
student under the guidance of Torsten Enßlin investigating information
field theorybased imaging for highenergy photons. NIFTY is an
objectoriented Python library that relies on complex numerical
operations on extremely powerful external routines in C, C++ and
Cython. The code is freely available under a GPL open source
license. Information field theory is a focus of the research group of
Torsten Enßlin.
References:
Marco Selig, Michael R. Bell, Henrik Junklewitz, Niels Oppermann, Martin Reinecke, Maksim Greiner, Carlos Pachajoa, Torsten A. Enßlin:
NIFTY  Numerical Information Field Theory  a versatile Python library for signal inference
submitted to IEEE Transactions on Signal Processing
arXiv:1301.4499
Further Information:
http://www.mpagarching.mpg.de/ift/
NIFTY documentation
Contact:
Marco Selig
phone 089 300002298
email: mseligmpagarching.mpg.de
Torsten Enßlin
phone 089 300002243
email: tensslinmpagarching.mpg.de
Hannelore Hämmerle
phone 089 300003980
email: prmpagarching.mpg.de
