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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI’s new 3-D group helps students visualize careers

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KINGSTON,R.I -- July, 19, 2004 -- Imagine you’re sitting in T.F. Green airport when a plane crashes into the terminal. Or picture yourself in the University of Rhode Island’s Ryan Center watching a basketball game and there’s a bomb scare. How would you get out safely?

Two members of a new URI partnership are working to help provide the answer. This summer URI undergraduate student Elizete Fernandes of North Providence who is studying computer engineering, and Rhode Island School of Design student Katie Wray of North Kingstown, who focuses on industrial design, are just two members of a new, innovative team that puts researchers’ ideas into visual form using 3-dimensional modeling, video analysis, and animation.

The team, called the 3-D Group for Interactive Visualization, is one of three new partnerships at URI this summer that were given seed money through the President’s Partnership Program. The program was established in 1995 and was designed to increase interdisciplinary efforts in areas of research critical to society.

Like the other eight partnerships, the 3-D group is composed of a team of faculty members, and undergraduate and graduate students. In this case, the core group of faculty and students come from computer science and art disciplines. But because those disciplines provide visual information, the group brings valuable conceptual information to a wide range of current URI research projects. While still in its infancy, the group, steered by Jean-Yves Hervé and Timothy Henry from the Department of Computer Science and Statistics and Ron Hutt from the Department of Art, has a three-year plan to balance complex projects with relatively simple ones to lay a strong foundation of expertise.

Students who show aptitude are asked to become part of the team. Once trained, these students become the local experts and teach other students.

“That expertise will become the core as we build our enterprise and expand our offerings to other projects, both inside and outside the university,” says Henry.

Projects are year-round. During the academic year, students complete an apprenticeship with the group by working 10 hours per week. During the summer they work full time and get paid for their work, thanks to a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates grant awarded to Joan Peckham of the Computer Science Department. She is the principal investigator on the grant.

Fernandes, the computer-engineering student, finds the experience stimulating. She’s helping to develop a computerized approach to simulate pedestrian behavior in non-emergency evacuation and non-emergency scenarios. Fernandes finds she likes working in a team. “I’m learning how to go about organizing a big project, where to start, and how to work in groups. It’s exciting.”

Wray, who has designed a 3-D model of pedestrian (for evacuation scenarios) on her computer, talks about her internship at URI. This summer has convinced her that this is exactly the kind of work she wants as a career. “I’m loving it,” she says.

Clift Manzanillo of Providence, who studies computer science, is another member of the 3-D group, is working on a project to reconstruct and visualize a rat’s brain to show target proteins that locate cells affected by lead poisoning. The young computer scientist speaks of his work with the enthusiasm of someone who just won the lottery. “I enjoy the team environment,” says the senior who hopes to focus on computer graphics at graduate school at URI.

Another current interdisciplinary project is an in-depth view of knee mechanics to show maximum joint stress that the knee experiences. MRIs currently cannot provide that level of definition required for this analysis. This information would be important to physical therapists, among others.

Next year, the group plans 3-D reconstruction and visualization of the silkworm during the cocooning phase.

“The partnership is really a win-win situation for everyone,” says Hervé.