Envision Center marks ten years of researching visualization and visualizing research

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March 14, 2014

Purdue planetary scientist David Minton wanted to show people how Mars formed, a bit of a trick given that it happened about 4.5 billion years ago.

Brad Duerstock, who heads Purdue’s Institute for Accessible Science, wanted the world to share the biology wet lab that Purdue developed as a model of accessibility. But the lab was more than a little big to pack in a suitcase.

Both Purdue researchers found a solution by working with ITaP’s byersd@purdue.edu.

The Envision Center, part of ITaP Research Computing (RCAC), uses a blend of technology and art to help enhance research and teaching by graphically representing data and information. It specializes in technology and techniques such as data visualization and analysis; virtual simulation; human-computer interaction; and media creation, including publication-quality still visualizations, video and animations.

Besides operating the hardware and software, expert staff and students at the Envision Center consult on ways to graphically represent research and enhance teaching. The center collaborates on grants, including building proof-of-concept demos needed for proposals.

The Envision Center’s anniversary event will include remarks by:

  • Gerry McCartney, Purdue's system chief information officer, vice president for information technology and Olga Oesterle England Professor of Information Technology.
  • Gary Bertoline, dean of the College of Technology, who led the creation of the Envision Center and served as the center’s director.
  • Brad Duerstock, associate professor of engineering practice in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering and School of Industrial Engineering, and a nationally recognized accessibility design researcher with a particular interest in making science careers accessible. There also will be tours of the Envision Center and demonstrations of the technology it makes available and some of the projects it has worked on with Purdue faculty.

The Envision Center’s use by faculty is broad. Projects have ranged from the small —animating the molecular-scale Nobel Prize-winning work of chemistry Professor Ei-ichi Negishi for a general audience — to the large — 3-D visualization of data on the fluid mechanics of the Great Lakes.

The center also has created a life-sized interactive virtual clean room for training pharmacy students and virtual simulations for teaching principles of food and bridge inspections, among other things. Users can be put in the middle of these virtual worlds, literally, by projecting them in the center’s four-walled immersive virtual environment. The simulations also can be rendered for use on portable virtual reality equipment, desktop and laptop computers and mobile devices.

Working with Duerstock and civil engineering Professor Phillip Dunston, Envision Center staff built and deployed a Web-based, 3-D virtual version of Purdue’s Accessible Biomedical Immersion Laboratory (ABIL), the model accessible biology wet lab.

“Not everyone can come to see the physical space,” Duerstock says. “We’re trying to bridge the physical with virtual reality, to take what we’ve learned in ABIL and get it out there.”

For Minton, an assistant professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences, the Envision Center created a stunning animation of his Mars formation theory to make it accessible to non-specialists.

“Planet formation theory and orbital mechanics are difficult to visualize for someone without much artistic experience, so I was grateful to have the Envision Center,” Minton says. “I am very happy with the product. I believe it will allow my research to be appreciated by a much wider audience.”

For more information about Envision Center services, contact George Takahashi, Envision Center technical lead, 49-61862, gtakahas@purdue.edu, or Jon Wright, Envision Center project manager, 49-43165, jdwright@purdue.edu.

Originally posted: March 14, 2014