Brown University News Bureau

The Brown University News Bureau

1998-1999 index

Distributed May 3, 1999
Contact: Kristen Cole

Dedication May 26

Brown University and IBM to unveil new computer visualization center

On May 26, officials from Brown University and IBM will unveil an $8-million Technology Center for Advanced Scientific Computing and Visualization. The center will be dedicated during a 2 p.m. ceremony in MacMillan Hall.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- A new center to foster scientific discoveries through high-performance computing and visualization technology will be unveiled at Brown University Wednesday, May 26, 1999.

The $8-million Technology Center for Advanced Scientific Computing and Visualization, established in collaboration with IBM, will be dedicated in a ceremony featuring Brown President E. Gordon Gee; Andries van Dam, the Thomas J. Watson Jr. University Professor of Technology and Education and professor of computer science; George Karniadakis, professor of applied mathematics; and Paul M. Horn, IBM senior vice president of research. The dedication will begin at 2 p.m. in the C.V. Starr Auditorium of MacMillan Hall, 167 Thayer St.

Editors: Van Dam, Karniadakis and Horn will be available at a 1 p.m. press conference at the center, 180 George St. Press tours and demonstrations of prototype virtual reality applications will follow the dedication. Contact the News Bureau for more information.

The Center houses two major new resources: a high-performance IBM RS/6000 SP parallel computer, and what is informally called "the cave" - an eight-foot cubicle in which high-resolution stereo graphics are projected onto the walls and floor to create a virtual reality experience.

The IBM computer will be used to simulate complex processes as diverse as the movement of the earth's mantle, subatomic particle interactions, and the function of the human heart. The computer will also drive the projectors that display those images in the cave. Special hardware and software will keep track of the positions and movements of a person entering that virtual environment, changing the images in the cave in a way that allows the visitor to feel immersed in the virtual space.

For example, a researcher studying a simulation of air flow around a space shuttle could walk around a model of the shuttle floating within the cave and even feel compelled to duck while walking under it. The researcher could see patterns of airflow around the shuttle by positioning and moving colored streamers in the flow much like tails on a kite.

"We anticipate the cave will become a powerful tool for facilitating scientific insight," said Samuel Fulcomer, center director. "This is based on the idea that it is easier to understand how something works or is put together if you can hold it in your hand or walk around inside it."

People who enter the cave and interact with its graphics wear tracking devices to monitor their movements, lightweight stereo eyewear to see objects in 3-D, and slippers to protect the delicate polymer screens lining the cubicle. The projected virtual space appears seamless, without any intersections between floor and walls.

As viewers negotiate a virtual environment, objects may appear to hang in space in front of them, tangible and within reach. This is an effect of the stereo graphics, which create slightly offset images for the left and right eyes. A person in the cave may also wear special gloves that send the computer information about hand location and allow the person to interact with the virtual environment. A viewer could change the lighting and artwork in a virtual gallery, precisely position an artificial valve in a virtual heart, or fly over a virtual Martian landscape.

The new center was developed with a $1-million Major Research Instrumentation Award from the National Science Foundation and extensive equipment donations from IBM. It is expected to foster scientific discoveries as well as graduate and undergraduate instruction in a variety of fields, including chemistry, geology, cognitive and linguistic sciences, physics, computer science and applied mathematics.

Installation of the center's facilities began in December 1998, and will continue as new computing and visualization technology is developed and integrated.