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Scientific Visualization For Undergraduate Education

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Visualization and Computer Graphics

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.1086.1 - 9.1086.6



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Paper Authors

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Eric Johnson

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Jeffrey Will

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3138

Scientific Visualization for Undergraduate Education

Jeffrey D. Will, Eric W. Johnson Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Valparaiso University

Introduction It has been said that one of the greatest challenges for students learning subjects in STEM is the need for the ability to think in three dimensions [1]. However, these skills are typically underdeveloped in undergraduates, even in the best of students [2]. Even though there is widespread need of students to understand and visualize spatial relationships [3], surprisingly little work has been done in the field of education to address this need.

Hardware to accomplish this goal has been in existence for several decades, though only since 1993 has it seen applications in education [4]. Educational advances have increased since that time, albeit slowly. Important advances include Christopher Dede’s application of visualization hardware to general scientific concepts [5], and the teaching of electromagnetics in particular with the well-known MaxwellWorld [6]. Other applications include education of elementary school students in basic zoological concepts at Georgia Tech [7, 8], the NICE project for elementary education at the University of Illinois at Chicago [9]-[11], and engineering education research at East Carolina University [12].

This paper describes the efforts at Valparaiso University to augment students’ education in several areas of science, mathematics, and engineering by using three-dimensional visualization hardware. Utilizing a newly available, low-cost system, the advances here promise wide-spread application due to the financial feasibility of this hardware to most universities. We discuss several custom-developed applications, in addition to their use in undergraduate courses.

Hardware System In the past decade, visualization systems have cost from $300,000 to several million dollars. On the low end, companies such as FakeSpace ( have made available such devices as a one-user ImmersaDesk, offering a display of roughly three by four feet. High end systems such as the 6-walled CAVE at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign utilize 10’x10’ walls on all sides of the user to create a truly immersive effect. Such systems can cost on the order of $10M.

Due to the high cost of such systems, most work done in visualization has not focused on education. The investment required to purchase visualization systems has been out of the reach of most teaching-oriented schools, and has not allowed them to be prevalent in classrooms. However, within the past few years, low-cost devices offering much of the functionality of classic systems for one or two orders of magnitude less in cost have become available. These devices are based on commercially available commodity computer hardware, only recently powerful enough to drive graphics-intensive applications. Such systems are typically PC-based utilizing a high-end graphics card and LCD projectors. These devices project a three- dimensional image onto a large screen, giving the user a sense of immersion and allowing a

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Johnson, E., & Will, J. (2004, June), Scientific Visualization For Undergraduate Education Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--12845

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