a research tool with limitless uses, with untold benefits to businesses,
students, governments, patients and researchers.
With this tool,
for instance, a doctor can stand in front of a wall of computer
screens, put on special goggles, and take a virtual stroll through
a patient's colon. Using the same apparatus, a special-forces unit
can rehearse a hostage situation over the expanse of an entire city
block -- all without leaving the room. Holding an electronic wand,
a heart surgeon can perform a trial run on a patient with startling
accuracy -- never making the first incision.
Futuristic? In fact, students and researchers at The University
of Southern Mississippi's Department of Computer Science and Statistics
are already working with that very technology.
3-D immersive visualization, and it's coming to the High-Performance
Visualization Laboratory at Southern Miss's Hattiesburg campus this
(of this technology) are infinite," said Dr. Adel Ali, chair
of the Department of Computer Science and Statistics, who will detail
the project April 16 as part of Southern Miss's 2003 Lecture Series
in the Sciences.
In June, when
the lab begins installing its immersive visualization projection
system -- a bank of 3-D computer screens used for virtual-reality
research -- it will become one of the more salient aspects of the
university's ever-expanding Computer Science Department.
Funded by the
Department of Defense and a consortium of 10 departments at Southern
Miss, the High-Performance Visualization Laboratory, or "vis
lab," was built six months ago, joining together with a similar
lab built at the Stennis Space Center in 1999 to form what's called
the High Performance Visualization Center. Unlike Hattiesburg's
lab, Stennis currently features an immersive visualization projection
by two ACCESS grid nodes and connected by OC3 high-speed Internet2,
the vis labs allow researchers at both ends to work cooperatively
on research projects. But the coupling is not limited to Southern
Miss. In fact, the vis center lets students and researchers come
together from around the world in a "virtual laboratory,"
where they can work together to solve large, complex research and
an initiative by the Department of Computer Science and the Center
for Higher Learning, the vis center aims to build the computational
infrastructure needed for high-performance scientific and engineering
visualization. With a price tag of about $700,000, the lab itself
is equipped with 12 graphic and modeling workstations and an SGI
3400 rack-mounted supercomputer. The 1,700-square-foot lab is located
in the Chain Technology Building.
Ali said it
was vital to put one of the labs on the Hattiesburg campus so more
faculty and students can participate in the visualization research
of interest to both NASA and the DoD agencies located at Stennis.
of having two labs," said Ali, who helped found the visualization
center three years ago, "was inspired by the obvious benefits
of complementing the resources and the expertise at Stennis with
the academic depth of the faculty on our main campus, to best serve
our students and our state."
by the HPVC Initiative, both sites at Stennis and at Hattiesburg
collaborate closely with similar nodes at Mississippi State University,
Jackson State University, the Naval Research Laboratory, the Naval
Oceanographic Office and the National Center for Supercomputing
Applications (NCSA), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
the visualization laboratory the "workhorse" of the Computer
Science department, which is the home of more than 320 undergraduate
students and 30 graduate students. The establishment of the visualization
research also was a major factor that motivated several Southern
Miss undergraduates to join the department's graduate programs and
helped in recruiting bright new students, Ali said.
is the classroom of the future," he said. "It combines
the highest technological advancements with multimedia and supercomputers
in one room and the beauty of it all was doing it through
an externally funded project.
gave an example to show that budget cuts will not hinder us from
moving forward. It gives students interested in getting a top-notch
degree in computer science a chance to work with some of the latest
cutting-edge technology," he added.
In the last
three years, the Computer Science department has generated more
than $4 million of externally funded research and development projects
in the area of visualization alone. Because of those efforts, Ali
said 10 different departments at Southern Miss have shown an interest
in interdisciplinary research with the Computer Science department.
So how does
another discipline benefit from the department's visualization lab?
Pointing to a 3-D DNA molecule projected onto the lab's enormous
screen, Ali explained, "Say someone in another department has
the software to develop a certain simulation; we take that output
and convert it so we can see it, which will give us a much better
understanding of what it means."
are wide-ranging, indeed. Already, Southern Miss has done work for
Columbus Air Force Base, designing a virtual model of the base itself
that is used to detect flight hazards. Students at the lab also
have upgraded an oceanographic model of the Sea of Japan and worked
on a host of medical research projects -- including research to
visualize the entire human body three dimensionally.
take a CAT scan of someone's blood vessels, apply a blood flow model
specific to the individual and, since you can manipulate objects
virtually, you can perform a bypass," said Ali. "You can
observe the flow, and if you don't like it, when you bring in the
real patient, you'll know 100 percent what's going to happen to
the patient in advance.
could model the human colon from a scan, and actually walk into
the display as a small person. You'd never even have to touch the
patient," he explained.
Lochhead, dean of the College of Science and Technology, said he
was "proud of the leadership the Computer Science department
is one example of how students here in Mississippi can have career
opportunities in ever greater numbers in this expanding field,"
as impressed with the facility as its beneficiaries do with the
results. Mike Wilson, 18, of Jackson, said he did some "networking"
before coming to Southern Miss, but never on this scale. "I
was real excited to have access to all of this equipment,"
a senior computer science major from Natchez, said the visualization
lab was simply "awesome."
to have to go to Stennis, and this allows me to just do all my work
here -- and I can still communicate with the people at Stennis,"