School’s 3-D Virtual Labs Help NWI

Purdue University Calumet civil engineering students are using the school’s new three-dimensional virtual laboratories to explore real solutions to logistical concerns facing Northwest Indiana.

Last spring, prospective civil engineers in PUC’s hydrology and hydraulics class continued a project begun in 2010 of developing a hydrologic watershed rainfall runoff model for the Little Calumet River system. The modeling project followed the previous year’s modeling of Hart Ditch in Munster.

The project is an experiential learning component of the class and is being coordinated with the Little Calumet River Basin Development Commission.

Aiding in flood management planning and activities

The modeling project is being conducted in segments across the Little Calumet River system by different classes of PUC civil engineering students. Ultimately, the project seeks to increase understanding of how the Little Calumet River system behaves. The project also will serve as an aid in flood-management planning and mitigation activities.

Supervising the students are Chandramouli Viswanathan, PUC assistant professor of civil engineering, and Dan Repay, Little Calumet River Basin Commission executive director. The students are applying visualization technological resources of PUC’s Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation in their model development.

Professor of mechanical engineering Chenn Zhou, in her role as director of CIVS and engineering outreach, also is contributing to the effort.

CIVS is a multidisciplinary research center that allows faculty and students to create virtual worlds in which users immerse themselves in models that provide real-world visualization and understanding of any system or phenomenon being studied.

CIVS resources can be used to solve research problems, address environmental challenges, help industry improve productivity and cost effectiveness, and develop virtual training-education materials.

Tour the expanded CIVS during open house

Having contributed to industrial savings of more than $30 million since its inception in 2009, CIVS is growing in demand and popularity.

The campus facility recently underwent a $3.7 million expansion, supported substantially by U.S. Department of Energy funds that U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Merrillville, worked hard to acquire.

An open house, featuring tours and demonstrations of the enhanced CIVS, will run from 2 to 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21, in the Powers Computer Education Building.

The public is invited.

Visualizing ground-water contamination

CIVS also has provided support to a team of faculty and students to develop a virtual lab to visualize ground-water contamination-related problems based on modeling results.

“The virtual ground-water research,” Viswanathan said, “creates a safe, interactive way for students to experience worlds which are impossible or impractical to explore directly.”

In the hydrology and hydraulics class Viswanathan teaches, students learn conceptually about surface and subsurface flow processes and flood modeling. Through CIVS, they apply visualization and virtual-reality technology to develop and use three-dimensional models.

Connecting concept with real world

Students contend the models connect concept with the real world. Said Steven Vanes of Hammond, “If you can visualize it, you can understand.”

Michael Schmitz of Portage added,” The 3-D visualization models bring the concept to life.”

Professor and director Zhou summarized the learning benefit to CIVS for students: “The virtual worlds being created through CIVS propel our students’ knowledge and understanding of their courses and practical application of their studies.

“This advanced technology is designed to stimulate new intellectual exchanges and critical thinking that are intertwined between the textbook and real-world applications.”