Jeremy Craig, 404-413-1357
ATLANTA — On the fourth floor of the Petit Science Center, students in Jeremy Crampton’s geography class stand before a glowing concave bank of computer screens. Crampton encourages his students, who gaze with amazement, to use wireless keyboards and mice to zoom in and out of the 3D renderings, which depict downtown Atlanta side by side with old planning maps of the city from the 1950s.
|Jack Reed, a staff member in the Department of Geosciences, demonstrates the mapping capabilities of GSU's new visualization wall.|
"Oh, that makes me dizzy,” said Crampton, associate professor of geography, to his students as assistant Jack Reed turned the 3D perspective of GSU’s Urban Life building. “You really get a sense of immersion.”
The 9-foot-tall, room-filling array of computer screens is GSU’s visualization wall, the university’s new tool to examine and solve complex problems in fields including geography, public health, chemistry and even the arts.
The wall displays 200 million pixels and is split into four divisions that are tied into four different servers, allowing the wall to display four large images at the same time.
At Array A, Maya Velasco, a post baccalaureate student, zoomed in on the Colorado River winding through Grand Canyon.
“It’s pretty exciting to see something bigger, like a natural landform here on this screen, rather than on a normal computer screen or in a book,” Velasco said. “It makes the impact greater, and it’s definitely realistic.”
Professors also plan to use the wall to track public health in Atlanta, explore molecular modeling and to visualize computer interfaces.
The wall is for more than science, however. It has also been used for the humanities, including taking a bigger look at library collections, as well as embarking on a “virtual field trip” for English as a second language classes where students interacted in English by “visiting” their home countries.
“The activity was fun and interactive as students were explaining a lot about both how to use Google Earth, and about their home countries,” said Margareta Larsson, lecturer in GSU’s Intensive English Program. “The coolness factor was huge, since it is a really neat room and fancy technology,” Larsson said. “In fact, after the visit, one student used the visualization wall as an example of a reason to come to GSU to study.”
The wall is also being used for the arts. Professor Pam Longobardi is planning to use the wall on Earth Day, to help display artists’ collaborations on environmental issues – including art made from debris found in the environment.
“I have been collecting images by artists from around the world of both debris sites and art made from the debris,” Longobardi said. “This will be the backdrop for the symposium, called ‘the Nature of Waste,’ featuring both artists and scientists in the discussion.”
It is this ability to allow collaborations that is one of the wall’s greatest strengths, Crampton said.
“The greatest advantages are that the wall is both immersive and interactive,” he said. “Activity is always better than passivity.”
Art Vandenberg of GSU’s Department of Information Systems and Technology, who helped to spearhead efforts to get the wall up and running, said the potential for assisting the community is limitless.
On recent visits, officials from the Atlanta Regional Commission got a feel for the wall’s power, as did leaders from various foundations.
“You can involve citizens in decisions with neighborhood planning, visualize them spatially, and over lay demographics,” Vandenberg said. “You can say, ‘here’s your neighborhood, and here’s what’s good and bad.’ The potential for collaboration is great.”