Get a good look at virtual reality

AMES, Iowa -- Iowa State University's spring presidential lecture will be an eyes-on experience.

Show up early and you'll be able to put on 3-D glasses and watch as virtual reality takes you inside a plant's cell during photosynthesis. Or maybe you can tour a Hindu temple. Or maybe you can see what an Ames company is doing to turn virtual reality into a business. Or maybe some students can show you their posters and presentations about their work with virtual reality.

Carolina Cruz-Neira, an Iowa State professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering who holds the Stanley Chair in Interdisciplinary Engineering, will present "The Wonders of Virtual Reality: A Research Extravaganza." The Spring 2006 Presidential University Lecture will be Monday, Feb. 6, in the Sun Room of Iowa State's Memorial Union. Demonstrations using Cruz-Neira's portable virtual reality system begin at 7 p.m. The lecture begins at 8 p.m. The events are free and open to the public.

Cruz-Neira says this lecture won't be a professor speaking from the front of the room. She's thinking about setting up two podiums. She wants to invite students and colleagues up to talk about their work and the different aspects of virtual reality. She may even carry a stopwatch and cut off presenters when it's time for the next talk.

"We want to have a little fun and not get too deeply technical," Cruz-Neira said. "We want to capitalize on the fun part."

Cruz-Neira certainly knows about the fun and the technical aspects of virtual reality. Her doctoral studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago included the design of the CAVE Virtual Reality Environment, a technology that surrounds people with computer-generated 3-D images. And she's collaborated with a choreographer to create a concert dance featuring dancers interacting with music and virtual-reality images of a 3-D cityscape.

"Virtual reality is the place where science meets art, where engineering and the humanities become one, where faculty and students become explorers and innovators expanding the digital frontiers of the 21st century," Cruz-Neira said.

Take a look at the work of Cruz-Neira and her team during this spring's presidential lecture, "And you're going to know what the big deal is about virtual reality," she said. "And you'll know what it's good for and what kinds of things my group is doing to move this forward."

The Presidential University Lecture Series was created in 2003 to highlight the expertise and excellence of Iowa State faculty.