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  5. College of Engineering dedicates new eMedia Center Visualization Lab

College of Engineering dedicates new eMedia Center Visualization Lab

DNA computer projection.
UW-Madison virologists can use the eMedia center to view larger-than-life molecular models. Here they can examine the bonds between a strand of DNA and protein molecules.

Virologist Jean-Yves Sgro can stand in front of an 18-foot-by-5-foot screen and view 3-D models of each of four proteins that comprise the Rhino virus. Then he can meld the snaklelike proteins into a giant crater-and-canyon-filled orb, spin it in all directions and study its structure.

The screen might be the most unique part of a new computing center, the eMedia Center Visualization Laboratory, located on the engineering campus. In a ceremony that included demonstrations and a ribbon-cutting, the college dedicated the theater-style computing center Monday, Oct. 23.

Made possible by gifts from Hewlett-Packard, the eMedia Center showcases technology that will enable faculty, staff and students universitywide to translate static, two-dimensional models and mountains of data into vivid, interactive 3-D images and then view those images collaboratively in a large-scale virtual-reality environment.

At the dedication, College of Engineering Dean Paul Peercy said Hewlett-Packard's tradition of support has made a tremendous difference to engineering education and research. "This laboratory, one of the few of its kind in the nation, is here on this campus because of HP's generosity and foresight in recognizing what could be accomplished on a college campus with this type of lab," he said.

The eMedia Center will have a significant impact on classroom learning, cutting-edge computer research and technology demonstrations to industry. It features a 5-foot, 8-inch by 18-foot, 1-inch panoramic screen driven by three Hewlett-Packard UNIX J5600 computers with dual processors. In addition, it houses six Intel-based computers on which center users can develop their applications.

Photo of eMedia people.
Left to right, eMedia Center Director and Professor of Mechanical Engineering Christopher Rutland, College of Engineering Dean Paul Peercy, Hewlett-Packard President of Computing Systems Duane Zitzner and UW-Madison Provost John Wiley dedicate the new center.

HP President of Computing Systems Duane Zitzner, a UW-Madison mathematics graduate, said companies like Boeing and Airbus are using similar facilities to design helicopters and airplanes. He talked about the center's potential here. "My dream for this, even though it started off on the engineering side, was much, much bigger than that," Zitzner said. He hopes center users will include everyone from physicists and cancer researchers to mathematicians, musicians and stock-market analysists.

The eMedia Center will enable researchers to produce near-scale mockups of such expensive-to-prototype items as cars or nuclear reactors and view larger-than-life models of things like viruses and X-ray lithography masks.

Its visualization applications include:

  • Static, dynamic and immersive computer-aided design visualization
  • Static and dynamic data visualization from simulations and experiments
  • Interactive visualization of molecular models
  • Scene visualizations and animations
  • Visualization, including moveable "mannequins," for human factors studies

The center's equipment is valued at $371,000. Since 1980, HP has given nearly $14 million in support and equipment to the university, and offers cooperative education opportunities and permanent employment to many students. Its funds have helped create scholarships, laboratories and learning tools that have benefited not only undergraduate and graduate students, but the university's research efforts as well.

Photo of Brain cross section.
Cross sections of the brain-visualizations stemming from Psychology and Psychiatry Professor Richard Davidson's research of how brain function relates to emotional and affective disorders.


People across campus have experessed interest in using the center, said eMedia Center Director and Mechanical Engineering Professor Christopher Rutland. "There are quite a few demonstrations already set up, and we're going to continue to look forward to people across campus using it for both research and instruction," he said. Potential users could include faculty, staff and students with interests in genetics, landscape architecture, engineering, geology, geophysics, kineseology, education, space science-and even dance and theater.

Psychology and Psychiatry Professor Richard Davidson conducts state-of-the art research about how brain function relates to emotional and affective disorders. "This information enables us to look at the brain in ways we've dreamed about before, but never actually been able to do," he said. "It's also a powerful tool in teaching students the anatomy of the brain." Davidson teaches a weekly seminar about functional brain imaging and plans to hold some sessions in the eMedia Center, where students can see colorful, larger-than-life images and cross sections of the brain.

Rutland teaches Computational Fluid Dynamics (ME 573), a graduate-level course in which he introduces methods and analysis techniques they can use to find computational solutions for fluid mechanics and heat transfer problems. As part of the course, he will showcase the center's state-of-the-art visualization capabilities and encourage his students to use it for their research projects.

The eMedia Center will facilitate both collaboration and demonstration. "I think it'll work so much better in there than crowding people around a computer screen," says Rutland.