Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Simulation and Virtual Reality

Notes from the November 15 Nova IEEE Meeting

Dr. Jim X. Chen offered a survey of the research projects at the computer graphics laboratory at George Mason University. I have read a great deal about virtual reality, but this was the first time I had heard from someone actively working in the field.

Chen opened his presentation with a description of his work on the simulation of fluids. He explained that fluid dynamics is too complicated to simulate, but a simplified model achieves the same effect. With his model he was able simulate the waves created by the back of a boat. Similar concepts were employed in simulating the dispersal of dust created by a car driving across the desert.

Next, Chen described his work in what he called edutainment - learning through playing. Chen builds systems that use virtual reality to teach real world concepts. For example, students see a visual representation of a magnetic field to understand how magnetic fields work. Animations create physical representations of physics equations, helping students retain knowledge. Multi-User Virtual Environments (MUVEs) allow students to explore digital museums.

Chen has built a system for creating custom models for knee surgery visualization. First, a virtual model is built from MRI images. This is important, because MRI images are in black and white. Then, calculations are made for the forces on the joint. Then, a virtual model can be created for surgery visualization. This allows a surgeon to visualize the surgery before it is done on the actual patient.

Building a virtual ear surgery system, including temporal bone construction, is more complicated. Because of the fine detail, it is not practical to use MRI images. An actual specimen was used to create a virtual model. A haptic device allows surgeons to train in a virtual environment.

Chen described his virtual human anatomy and surgery system. Students can see cross sections of entire systems (skeleton, nerves, etc.) in natural color. There is a human parts browser to assist study.

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