High Tech, Here and Now!

On the screen, a face metamorphoses into a four-dimensional mathematical object. Stars are born. A land mass on a spinning globe comes to describe a woman's body. The numbers on a ticking clock melt into dollar signs. A high-tech version of Salvador Dali? A peek into the California studios of Lucasfilm? No. These images, aids for research and teaching, are created in Bloomington, at IU's Center for Innovative Computer Applications (CICA).

CICA is a special projects unit of the IU Office of Information Technologies. Established in 1988 to explore and help develop applications of new computing technologies for research and instruction, CICA "allows university faculty and students to go way beyond what is normally done in research or in the classroom," says CICA Research Director Dennis Gannon, associate professor of computer science. Focusing on scientific artistic visualization, high-end computer graphics and animation, and supercomputing, CICA tries to tailor-make solutions to the specific problems of clientele from a wide range of fields.

CICA's staff, consisting of scientists, computer professionals, and humanists, has at its disposal some of the most sophisticated computer equipment in existence. Aside from the University of Illinois, Indiana University is the only Big Ten school to boast an interdisciplinary research facility of this kind. In addition, IU is one of the few institutions in the United States that offers access to the center to anyone from the university.

If a simple solution to a client's problem exists, CICA can point out appropriate hardware, software, University Computing Services staff, or other resources. If not, CICA addresses the problem at hand by creating a "task team" consisting of the client, appropriate CICA staff, and graduate students.

A brief look at just a few of the center's recent projects illustrates their scope:

Bill Rowland, associate professor of biology, Indiana University Bloomington, and his student, Allison Halperin, work with the beautiful--and extremely aggressive-- Siamese fighting fish. To test certain of the fish's responses, real fish were confronted with computer-generated images of themselves. Identical in color, size, and motion, these images were placed against the tank, and researchers monitored how the fighting fish responded to their nearly perfect illusory counterparts.

Through computer graphics, Robert Shakespeare, associate professor of theatre and drama, creates and analyzes theatre lighting designs. With CICA's help, Shakespeare has been able to move around a simulated stage set in real time. For stage directors, these synthetically created images represent great savings in time and money, and have potential applications to television and architecture. In partnership with CICA, Shakespeare has developed a special center within his department to refine his computer modeling research into a classroom tool for teaching set and lighting design (see /About the Cover for more information or Stage Lighting and Set Design).

Jesus Dapena, associate professor of kinesiology, Indiana University Bloomington, uses computer visualization to analyze high jumpers' techniques, and help them improve their performance. Films of a jump, taken from two fixed angles, make it possible to digitize the locations at any given time of different points on the body. This data serves as the basis for three-dimensional models of the athlete jumping, which can be viewed from any perspective. (For more information see Dynamics of the High Jump.)

As artists often face difficulty imagining how commissioned works will look in their intended settings, Janet Sanders (a former student in the School of Fine Arts) wanted to give them a "sneak preview." Using computers, Sanders was able to model a three-dimensional landscape, design for it a virtual sculpture, and show the interaction between the two. This realistic animation shows how a piece would look in its setting, allowing the artist to make changes best suited to the environment. (For more information see Computer Modeling of Site Specific Sculpture.)

In addition to its ongoing role in research and education, CICA, holds Gannon, will help lead IU onto "the inevitable explosion of the information superhighway." Looking ahead, Gannon is exploring industrial and business links for the center, anticipating the day when "everyone will have access to the Internet in their homes."

(Image from the Department of Geological Sciences)

--Roberta Neiger