Rensselaer Research Review Winter 2010-11
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Do You See What I Mean?
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* Lee Ligon

Barbara Cutler has projected 6-foot-high 3-D images of the brain. Using a unique, multicamera format selected slices of the brain can be projected, inch-by-inch and along any plane, and made visible at such a scale that they can be shared and commented upon by an audience.

Working at the Limits of the Senses

Vision is tied to thinking and understanding, both in our language and in our culture. We speak of seeing things differently, narrowing our focus, and eye-opening experiences. Vision is the broadest pathway into the human brain, which is why visualization has already become critical to education and research. Not surprisingly, visualization is a key part of Rensselaer’s present and future.

Visualization involves, quite literally, seeing things in new ways. And thanks to new tools (to detect, analyze, and render), new knowledge, and new interest, visualization is emerging as a promising intellectual frontier. What we discover and develop in this field will help us solve complex problems, deliver rich educational experiences, and expand our understanding of our universe, our planet, and ourselves.

Interacting on a Human Scale

At Rensselaer, we already have an array of resources that can help us lead in visualization. The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center’s studios provide opportunities to work at the limits of the senses, with three-dimensional imaging, enhanced by exquisite capability in using sound to create immersive experiences. Barbara Cutler, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science, has created virtual rooms in which you can see the effects of incoming sunlight at any time of the day or the year, at any location. She also has projected 6-foot-high 3-D images of the brain, using a unique, multicamera format: by moving panels around, selected slices of the brain can be projected, inch-by-inch and along any plane, and made visible at such a scale that they can be shared and commented upon by an audience.

Such images might enable people to collaborate interactively on a human scale. One person, standing in the studio, points out an anomaly; another explains or interprets; a third asks a question. These conversations can happen more spontaneously and intuitively when the technology is so rich, and so immersive, that it is all but forgotten; the insights come from people within the visualization — working literally “from the inside out.”

Using Laser Scanning to Capture our Environment

In another approach, Richard Radke, associate professor in Electrical, Computer and Systems Engineering, is exploring the use of lasers to create 3-D images that provide direct, useful visual information on things — streets, houses, power lines — that can be surprisingly variable in the real world.

One project includes scanning all the buildings on the Rensselaer campus, creating data sets that allow for understanding the changes brought about by weather or growing foliage without losing basic information on these places. This sort of visualization, known as LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), allows for analysis that can be important to defense operations, although perhaps the best-known application appears in a Radiohead music video, “House of Cards.”

Visualization promises to help us to better understand complex streams of data and to simulate the real world in ways that support effective decision-making. Whether this technology simulates the next generation of spacecraft or helps scientists sift through the input from sensors placed throughout an endangered rain forest, visualization will provide us with new ways of looking at our world.

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“Do You See What I Mean?”
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  Front Page | Back Issues    Winter 2010-11
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