Advanced microscope technology allows you to cells and molecules in 3-D by pressing your eye to a lens or looking at the view on a computer screen. CAVE technology allows you to create a room-size projection and walk around inside of a cell.
Virginia Tech’s University Visualization and Animation Group helps researchers use the CAVE — which stands for Computer Augmented Virtual Environment.
VT-CAVE is a multidisciplinary computer graphic visualization research and educational facility that is part of the new ACITC. Due to recent advances in computer graphic software and hardware, it is possible to routinely visualize complex structures in three dimensions on desktop computers. This is accomplished by using simple web-based graphical tools, such as VRML player software.
When objects become extremely large and complex, a virtual reality CAVE can be used to literally walk inside of these structures. For example, students and researchers can see and understand how complex objects work by literally walking into a bacteria cell or complex protein structure, a new architectural design, an insect -- and watch its heart beat -- or an array of dislocations moving near a crack in a ceramic material. The CAVE is a 3-D, immersive, multiperson, room-sized, high-resolution environment where students and their instructors can be surrounded and experience these complex structures together. Talk about your high-tech classroom!
Many departments on campus are using the CAVE for both education and research projects. For example:
— the Virtual Jamestown project
— the USDA project, “Putting Bugs in a CAVE Room,” entomology
— the “Virtual Dandelion” project, plant pathology
Remote site CAVE labs have been created in architecture, interior design, and materials science. And the VT-CAVE Student Led Users Group (SLUGs) is working with faculty members in a variety of colleges and departments to build remote site visualization lab projects.
An excellent example of how the CAVE relates to research in the life sciences is the viewing of confocal microscope images in the CAVE using Crumbs, an immersive imaging software package developed in partnership with the National Computational Science Alliance (NCSA).
Crumbs? Once upon a time, NCSA computer scientist Rachel Brady decided to ask biologists and veterinary scientists what they needed. She learned they needed a way to measure complex structures. The tail of a fruit-fly sperm, for example, looks like tangled fishing line. It is too small to measure under even a powerful microscope. But if you put the sperm in a CAVE, you can walk around and put marker points on the tail, and later you can tell the computer to measure the distance between the points. It reminded Brady of Hanzel and Gretel, leaving a trail of crumbs, so she named her software Crumbs.
At Virginia Tech, Crumbs has been used by Jeryl Jones in the radiology laboratory of the College of Veterinary Medicine. She used the CAVE and Crumbs to study a horse’s spin in great detail.
The Virginia Tech CAVE is also a member of the National Science Foundation’s PACI (Partnership in Advanced Computational Infrastructure) where CAVEs and I-Desks ("Immersa-Desks" or one-walled CAVEs) are linked over high-speed networks that emphasize the development of collaborative virtual environments (VE) for both research and education. Virginia Tech researchers and students, including the CAVE SLUGs, have developed VE awareness tools that will be used nationally and regionally. These collaborative VE tools have already been used at two Virginia Governor’s Schools.
The Central Virginia Governors School (CVGS) has worked with the Laboratory for Scientific Visual Analysis for the last three years on developing a web based K-12 educational project called DIGSTATS. Tom Morgan, director of CVGS, and Ron Kriz, VT-CAVE director, wrote a proposal to create a collaborative learning environment between Governors Schools in Virignia -- and perhaps all K-12 schools -- using collaborative virtual environments. The work is being funded by SiliconGraphics Inc. and Virginia Tech's Institute for Connecting Science Research to the Classroom. So far, the VT-CAVE, the Central Virginia Governor’s School, and the Central Shenandoah Valley Governor’s School have “shared” virtual CAVE space in real time via the Collaborative Cave Console.
For information, contact John Wenrich of the Instutite for Connecting Science Research to the Classroom, 540-231-3668, or Tom Morgan at 804-582-1104, or visit www.cvgs.k12.va.us.