Governor's School students experience multidisciplinary research in a whole new way

BLACKSBURG, Va., March 3, 2010 – High school students from the Virginia Governor's School were recently treated to a unique experience of immersive virtual reality technology and how it is used in understanding and solving real problems facing the commonwealth and the country.

The group’s recent visit to Virginia Tech was hosted by the Center for Geospatial Information Technology and Advanced Research Computing. The students visited the VT-CAVE and attended a special presentation by Center for Geospatial Information Technology director, Peter Sforza, who demonstrated a variety of research and analysis methods applied across multiple spatial and temporal scales for a plant disease epidemic.

This complex systems example connected the scales through 3-D modeling and animation, molecular epidemiology, mathematical modeling of biotic and abiotic phenomena, remote sensing, and geospatial mapping.

“It is important that we inspire these high school students with a chance to learn first-hand about interdisciplinary research and to connect the dots between their high school education and possible future careers in research,” explains Sforza. “These encounters truly resonate with the students and builds upon their experiences in an exciting way.”

Sforza explains how immersive virtual environments afford students a glimpse into these possibilities. The VT-CAVE is a multi-person, room-sized, high-resolution, 3-D video and audio environment, which allows students, researchers and educators the opportunity to explore and learn about the relationships between properties and complex 3-D structures in many disciplines, including biology, biochemistry, architecture, veterinary medicine, fluid mechanics, interior design, art and art history, materials science and engineering.

Sforza’s example has demonstrated how this Advanced Research Computing technology can enable research and enhance the communication of complex information, and students are taking notice. “The presentation was very interesting and enlightening. The integration of two seemingly distant technologies into … a common purpose was something that I hadn't given much thought to prior to this presentation,” stated one of the visiting students. “I really enjoyed Peter Sforza talk about transformation in plants and plasmids. His map that showed the progression of temperature and seasonal changes in the U.S. and Virginia was great too,” remarked another student. “I would urge other schools should seize the opportunity to visit … It is an amazing project!”

According to Virginia’s Department of Education website, Virginia Governor’s Schools provide some of the state’s most able students academically and artistically challenging programs beyond those offered in their home schools. With the support of the Virginia Board of Education and the General Assembly, the Governor’s Schools presently include summer residential, summer regional, and academic-year programs serving more than 7,500 gifted students from all parts of the commonwealth.

The VT-CAVE project is operated by the Visual Computing Group, part of Virginia Tech’s Advanced Research Computing unit within the Office of the Vice President of Information Technology. The group provides an innovative and interdisciplinary environment to advance computational science, engineering, and technology at Virginia Tech and beyond. The Advanced Research Computing unit works closely with university research centers, with an aim towards accelerating scientific discovery. The CAVE Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE) was invented at the University of Illinois at Chicago's Electronic Visualization Laboratory. CAVE is a registered trademark of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees.