VisCenter Opens Eyes to New Ways of Seeing the World

Davis Marksbury Building at the University of Kentucky - Lexington, Ky.
If you've ever Whenever you watch a college football or basketball game, you always see the commercial for the university. Typically in three parts, the school's marketing team includes a scene from the school's athletics tradition, a scientist looking into a microscope, and a group of students helping those in a third world country. Insert a tagline and maybe a #hashtag, and you've aced college marketing.

But in some corners of academia, really cool stuff does happen. At the University of Kentucky, one of those places is the Center for Visualization & Virtual Environments located in the Davis Marksbury Building. The VisCenter, as it is called, is a multi-disciplinary center charged with changing the way in which we view the world. (And the Marksbury Building, opened in 2011, was the first LEED Gold building on the UK campus.)

The applications stretch through medicine, security and defense, engineering, and the humanities. On last month's Blue Grass Trust deTour, we were given access to this tremendous (and largely unknown) resource right in the heart of UK.

The advances occurring in facial recognition and the research being done to help educate those with autism is amazing, but the focus of our visit was on the visualization possibilities on urbanization and historic preservation.

Illustrating a stage in the photogrammetric 3D reconstruction process at the VisCenter
Photogrammetric 3D Reconstruction utilizes two-dimensional photography to reconstruct three-dimensional structures with precision by having a camera that can properly gauge distance. (I'm not the one to explain this, go to the VisCenter's site for a better description). As it was explained, one could imagine the proper technology being mounted to a vehicle to create full 3D measurements of a structure or some other resource. Precise models of historic or natural sites could be created so that, if necessary, a model or recreation of the site could eventually made. At a minimum, the data utilization is endless!

In the realm of preserving relics and documents, consider the following explanation of the research on Digital Preservation and Visualization of Historical Artifacts: We are in race to use 21st century technology to preserve the traces of ancient cultures before the relics disappear forever. The EDUCE project (Enhanced Digital Unwrapping for Conservation and Exploration) is developing a hardware and software system for the virtual unwrapping and visualization of ancient texts. The overall purpose is to capture in digital form fragile 3D texts, such as ancient papyrus and scrolls of other materials using a custom built, portable, multi-power CT scanning device and then to virtually “unroll” the scroll using image algorithms, rendering a digital facsimile that exposes and makes legible inscriptions and other markings on the artifact, all in a non-invasive process.

Images from the all-digital Porgy & Bess set design.
All of these advances are quite remarkable. So, too, is the technology that created an all-digital backdrop for a UK Opera production of Porgy & Bess. The technology trekked to Atlanta for use by the professional Atlanta Opera. Images of that technology were visible to those of us on the deTour on a giant touchscreen table similar to what you might see on election night on CNN.

A trip to the VisCenter for an adult is like a visit to Disney World for a child. The sense of wonder is overwhelming as you imagine a different way of seeing the world.

More photographs from the VisCenter are available on flickr.

The Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation hosts a monthly deTour for young professionals (and the young-at-heart). The group meets on the first Wednesday of each month at 5:30 p.m. Learn more details about this exciting group on FacebookYou can also see Kaintuckeean write-ups on previous deTours by clicking here.
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