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This paper describes VISUAL, a graphical icon-based query language with a user-friendly graphical user interface for scientific databases and its query processing techniques. VISUAL is suitable for domains where visualization of the relationships is important for the domain scientist to express queries. In VISUAL, graphical objects are not tied to the underlying formalism; instead, they represent the relationships of the application domain. VISUAL supports relational, nested, and object-oriented models naturally and has formal basis. For ease of understanding and for efficiency reasons, two VISUAL semantics are introduced, namely, the interpretation and execution semantics. Translations from VISUAL to the Object Query Language (for portability considerations) and to an object algebra (for query processing purposes) are presented. Concepts of external and internal queries are developed as modularization tools.