CIVS marches on with new projects and student opportunities

An article published in the Purdue University Calumet Chronicle, February 19, 2012
by Andrea Drac


Since its opening in the spring of 2009, the Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation or CIVS, has been a place that “combines advanced simulation techniques with 3-D visualization and virtual reality technologies,” according to the CIVS website.

CIVS director Chenn Zhou said the center is available to any individual or organization with a need for their services, such as helping identify problems, finding the causes and developing solutions based on their needs.” Zhou added that CIVS has opened its doors to 46 external organizations and 32 PUC faculty members.

“The work and research done in the center addresses issues and challenges relating to energy, environment, education, training, productivity and quality,” Zhou said.

Zhou said students have been involved in every project that has been done in CIVS. One of the projects, entitled “Correspondences: Translating Senses from Poetry to Virtual Reality,” won a student research award last year. French and political science major Joann Holmen worked on the award-winning project and explained the project was about integrating French poetry with engineering and CIVS technology.

“We started with Charles Baudelaire’s poem, ‘Correspondences,’ known in the literary world for its symbolism and imagery, and created a 3D visualization of it,” Holmen said. “We wanted to create a 3D video that one could watch without having to read the poem that would communicate its central message; that of ambiguity in the relationship between the natural and metaphysical worlds.”

Holmen worked with CIVS students Nan Yan and Fan Zhang and their mentors Jack (John) Moreland (CIVS Senior Research Scientist), Jin Lu (Foreign language and research professor) and Zhou to create the final video. She first analyzed the poem in its original French and came up with an initial ‘script’ for the visualization. They then met in CIVS to discuss what to include in the video, what was needed in order to express the poem and what was possible with the technology.

“One of the foundational concepts of our project was visualization: the communication of ideas, whether concrete or abstract, through the use of visual imagery,” Holmen said. “Visualization allows contact with places and things not usually accessible by other means. Now we’ve visualized a poem, allowing people to experience and ‘see’ the poem in a new way. Nan and Fan did all the technology work.”

This coming semester, CIVS will continue to crank out new events and projects. Zhou said they are helping to start a new student club called I3DG (Immersive 3D Graphics) and the club will be holding a call-out to include students from all areas. CIVS is also planning a showcase in April for students to demonstrate their projects.

Zhou said there is also a project under development that will be used for teaching biology courses called Virtual Protein Structures.

Assistant Professor in Biology Radmila Sarac said the protein structures are published, solved crystal structures available in the database maintained by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) and they use protein visualization programs to view and examine the structures in 3D.

“For students, the 3D aspects of cell biology can be difficult to grasp. Because protein structures are inherently three-dimensional, it is difficult to demonstrate some of the structural and functional aspects utilizing diagrams and two-dimensional pictures,” Sarac said. “Therefore, by adapting the learning environment to encompass technologies such as enhanced 3D visualization, students will gain an appreciation for new, innovative methods available to learn about protein biology concepts and  enhance subject understanding,”

Zhou said CIVS has partnered with local companies to solve real world problems and to provide experiential learning opportunity to PUC students. She said the strong partnerships with industry have helped PUC students find internships and jobs and she believes virtual learning will play a role in education and training in the future.