Professionals to Watch: Chenn Zhou

Article written by Lesly Baily, NWI Times Correspondent, published on their website, nwitimes.com

From blast furnaces to French poetry, CIVS Director Chenn Zhou and her team are looking at the world in a virtual and innovative way.

Purdue University Calumet’s Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation is a research center that brings together education and application across a variety of fields and disciplines.

“CIVS allows us to integrate advanced simulation and visualization technologies to create virtual worlds for real problems. This empowers people to communicate more effectively and to achieve better and faster solutions,” says Zhou, who is also a professor in mechanical engineering.

“We were able to create the world’s first virtual blast furnace, which has been used in troubleshooting, optimization and training in the steel industry. In health care, we’ve worked on brain MRI imaging, preparation and virtual Medstation. We’ve created virtual French poetry.”

At PUC since 1994, Zhou has been leading the center since its inception in 2009. She was drawn to it based on her studies of computational fluid dynamics, which uses numerical methods to predict behavior of fluids and the effects of fluid motions past objects.

“I started to focus on developing applications of CFD to solve industrial problems in 1995, when CFD was not well recognized and accepted by industries. When I found out PUC was beginning to develop a 3-D visualization lab in 2008, I decided to explore the possibility of combining my research with virtual reality visualization,” she says.

“Our efforts with this immediately demonstrated great benefits and generated enormous interest from the community. We found that the integration of CFD simulation and virtual reality visualizations is helpful in providing insights and predictive models in the same ways CFD simulations are, but that they are also helpful in communicating the complex data more easily.”

Zhou has a bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics in China and she received her doctorate in mechanical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. In her career, she has fused together her passion for education and engineering.

“Growing up in a family of educators, I dreamed of someday fulfilling a similar role. During the college application process, my parents wanted me to major in liberal arts,” she says. “It was my high school teachers who convinced my parents to allow me to major in engineering because I was also good at math and science. I truly appreciated my high school teachers, which in fact enhanced my passion on teaching.

“Now as a professor, CIVS director and interim associate vice chancellor for research and graduate studies, I am able to contribute to higher education on many levels and in many roles through leading, educating and collaborating with students, faculty, staff and members of external organizations and industries.”

Zhou has conducted a large number of funded research projects totaling more than $17 million and collaborated with numerous experts from more than 80 organizations. She has published more than 260 technical papers, five copyrighted CFD codes and two patents.

“I truly believe that technologies can provide pathways to more, better and faster innovations,” she says. “Technologies such as simulation and visualization are an essential part of our future because they can provide faster and better innovative solutions with unlimited applications such as design, troubleshooting, optimization, education and training in all the fields.”

“Dr. Zhou’s work at the Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation at Purdue University Calumet profoundly benefits Northwest Indiana’s academic research opportunities and industry leaders,” says U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville. “I am proud of the initiatives taking place at CIVS, and I applaud Dr. Zhou for being at the forefront of these efforts and their positive impact on our local economy.”

Zhou is buoyed by the impact CIVS continues to have on the community as well as students.

“My favorite part is working closely with students, faculty, staff and other collaborators to solve real-world problems. The close interactions we have with industry and other organizations create win-win partnerships that provide excellent economic and educational benefits for all involved,” she says. “It always makes my day when I hear that the results of our projects have been used for real applications or when students have found jobs or been accepted into graduate programs because of their research experiences at CIVS.

“On a personal level, I want to influence others positively by being helpful, positive, happy, friendly and collaborative.”