UCSD brings powerful visualization to high school classroom

February 05, 2003

San Diego, Feb. 5, 2003 -- The University of California, San Diego (UCSD) today dedicated the Visualization Center at the Preuss School UCSD, a local middle/high school, to give teachers and students a dynamic and engaging tool for teaching and learning in Earth sciences, biology and other classes. The center will be hooked up to a high-performance network that will permit students to interact with university faculty and graduate students and work collaboratively with them on research projects. "This new center puts our school at the vanguard of new technologies that are reshaping and improving the way we teach, especially in the sciences," said Doris Alvarez, Principal of the Preuss School UCSD, which is located on the university's La Jolla campus. "We are deploying this technology years before it will reach most high schools, and we expect that by engaging students early on in the excitement of research, it will inspire more students to go into math, engineering and science-related careers."

The Visualization Center is funded as part of the National Science Foundation's OptIPuter project, an award made to UCSD and five other campuses in Fall 2002. The OptIPuter project brought together three technology institutions affiliated with UCSD that helped build the visualization center: the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC), the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology [Cal-(IT)2], a partnership between UCSD and UC Irvine, and the Visualization Center at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The initial subject matter on Earth sciences was designed by researchers at Scripps and the Geology Department of San Diego State University (SDSU).

The hardware and software installed in the visualization center has until now only been deployed at a limited number of universities. The GeoWall system consists of two projectors, a 7'x7' screen that permits three-dimensional viewing with a very bright image (3,000 lumens), and a high-end personal computer. Inside the PC are two graphics cards -- one that accelerates the display of lines and polygons, another that accelerates the display of volumes. Classes will have access to hundreds of advanced software programs, including some that will be developed by SDSC, Cal-(IT)2 and other UCSD units including Scripps. "The equipment and software are state of the art," said SDSC Director of Visualization Mike Bailey, who designed the facility with Rozeanne Steckler, Director of Education at SDSC. "As technology evolves and as we get feedback from teachers and students, we will be continuously fine-tuning the system and building new software to keep it state of the art and to ensure that the technological innovation yields a faster, deeper learning experience in the classroom."

The center will be linked via optical fiber to the OptIPuter testbed, now under construction on the UCSD campus. The OptIPuter proposal included the Preuss School UCSD as a key testbed for its outreach and education strategy. "The Preuss facility is powerful as a standalone educational tool, but, as part of the OptIPuter, it will provide a virtual-reality gateway to the world," said Cal-(IT)2 director Larry Smarr, a professor of Computer Science and Engineering at UCSD's Jacobs School of Engineering and principal investigator on the OptIPuter project. "Eventually, students at the Preuss School will be able to interact in real time with images stored thousands of miles away -- everything from a fly-over of the surface of Mars to navigating deep inside a human cell."

The Preuss School is a public middle and high school dedicated to providing an intensive college preparatory education for low-income students who will become the first in their families to graduate from college. The school was named in recognition of a gift from Peter and Peggy Preuss, their son Peter, and the Preuss Family Foundation. Peter Preuss received his Master's degree in mathematics from UCSD in 1968 and went on to found Integrated Software Systems Corp. (ISSCO), a San Diego-based company that was then the first and only software firm specializing in computer graphics. "It is gratifying that the Preuss School is now positioned at the forefront of this revolution that will harness high-performance computing and visualization for the benefit of education," said Preuss, who sold ISSCO in 1986 to Computer Associates. "This is a wonderful opportunity for students to get hands-on experience not only with today's technology, but with the technology of the future."

Researchers at SDSC, Scripps and SDSU are working with teachers at the school to create a curriculum based on the new system's capabilities. "More than half of our PhDs in engineering in the U.S. are foreign nationals, and many now return home after receiving their education," said Scripps Deputy Director John Orcutt. "This technology will engender excitement in science, providing the Preuss School with a major opportunity to attract young people too often left behind."

At Wednesday's dedication ceremony, science teacher Jennifer Krummel and her students will use the system for an introduction to Earth sciences, taking students on a tour of major geological and other Earth features with a 3D fly-over. "This sort of technology is the future of education," said Krummel. "My students and I are very excited that our school has the honor of being the first school to put this technology into action. These students probably would not have access to this cutting-edge science in the schools they come from. I hope that this makes them more interested in science in general."

The OptIPuter project has several other education projects in the planning stages. These include linking the newest undergraduate college at UCSD, Sixth College, to the OptIPuter testbed, enabling high-performance exploration of projects consistent with its theme of Culture, Art and Technology. In suburban Chicago, the Lincoln elementary school, in collaboration with the University of Illinois at Chicago and its Electronic Visualization Laboratory, is developing plans for classroom-based science inquiry activities using remote data sets within the science domains featured in the OptIPuter proposal geophysics and neuroscience.
Related Links:

Preuss School http://preuss.ucsd.edu
Cal-(IT)2 www.calit2.net
SDSC www.sdsc.edu
Scripps http://scrippsnews.ucsd.edu
SDSU www.sdsu.edu

University of California - San Diego

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