Tufts University

Visualize This

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His research, for instance, focuses on fluid dynamics, and visualization capabilities can help him and his fellow researchers better understand fluid flow.

"You can go right up to streamlines in a fluid or dig into a reservoir and see which way it's flowing," says Boghosian. "That's the direction we would like to move in. You can imagine all kinds of other uses for something like that."

"It's almost like we're handing our students and faculty their own magic school bus."

— Mely Tynan

Similar benefits could be gained by Laurie Baise, assistant professor of civil engineering, who works on reservoir simulation and subsurface water transport. Austin Napier's work in high energy physics relies on the ability to process large streams of data from organizations like Switzerland's CERN, the world's largest particle physics laboratory, and the VisWall will help with that, as well.

Engineers and mathematicians may most immediately leap to mind as the target user group for the VisWall, but Tynan says that the arts, humanities and health sciences could benefit just as much. "The possibilities are limited by our imagination," she says.

Boghosian brings up the example of the character Gollum in the "Lord of the Rings." Actor Andy Serkis' movements were tracked and translated to the digital rendering of the creature in the film. Similar technology is now available through the VisWall, which goes beyond traditional 3D rendering to create a true virtual reality environment.

"Imagine taking the ability to do something like that and applying it to drama and dance," he muses. "Imagine taking the ability to do something like that and trying to use it for facial recognition or occupational therapy or many other fields. We haven't really even begun to explore those kinds of things yet."

Building Bridges

For Tufts students of all levels, the VisWall facility is a useful resource for their coursework and research—one that Boghosian says they tend to enjoy.

Center for Scientific Visualization

Melissa Pickering, assistant director of the Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, demonstrates the use of LEGO robots to navigate Google Earth via the VisWall.

"It's one thing for me to assign to some of my research students a theoretical problem or a computational problem in 3D fluid dynamics," he says. "But if they're able to see to visualize in an intuitive way the behavior of the fluid that gives rise to whatever phenomenon they're studying, it builds their intuition for it.

The VisWall facility also provides Tufts the opportunity to connect with researchers at other universities and expand collaborative research opportunities. Some partnerships are already in the works.

In another kind of partnership, the VisWall will become a resource for communities outside of Tufts, as well. Boghosian says there are plans for K-12 outreach, bringing students to campus to see the VisWall in action and get them excited about scientific research.

"Oftentimes just the excitement of seeing this image in 3D is enough to spark their interest in some of these fields we've talked about," he says.

That spark is well established at Tufts, but Tynan believes the VisWall will only add to it.

"It gives you pride to be helping out on supporting it," she says. "And it's only the beginning."

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Profile written by Georgiana Cohen, Web Communications. Video by Tufts Educational Media Center.

Photos by Joanie Tobin, University Photography

This story originally ran on Feb. 18, 2008.