Collecting and Presenting Environmental Findings in a Virtual Environment

The Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission has awarded a $1.2 million grant to Virginia Tech Outreach and International Affairs.

A sample of the complex advanced virtual reality situations generated from real-time data that the new Modeling and Simulation Center of Excellence will provide. Funded by the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, the joint Virginia Tech-Halifax venture also involves the Virginia Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation Center of Old Dominion University and other regional partners in business and industry.

The grant funds creation of a new regional program, the Modeling and Simulation Center of Excellence, in southern Virginia at Riverstone Technology Park, a 60,000-square-foot facility on 200 acres of rural countryside in Halifax County.

This program is unique because of the high level of corporate involvement from its inception and the goal of creating jobs in Southside Virginia.

The center, which will be led by Halifax Outreach Executive Director Carole Cameron Inge, will include as many as seven environmental and energy experts in the beginning stages of the center's operations. Numerous corporate partners have also committed resources and shown interest in the developing project.

The Modeling and Simulation Center of Excellence will target projects that use data collected in the energy and environmental fields -- air, water, and land. Data will be collected by sensors or other instruments and then exported over the broadband network in real time or asynchronously for computational processing by System X, the supercomputer at Virginia Tech. Faculty members and students at Virginia Tech are expected to be involved in designing the projects, collecting the data in the field, and helping process and analyze the information. The resulting product will be used for later visualization in an aggregated manner at Riverstone or wherever stakeholders are located.

Plans for the center feature a new modeling, simulation, and analysis facility; including a flexible advanced visualization system that can be configured into a virtual environment of one, two, or three walls in size and aspect. This advanced technology has the capability to create a reconfigurable visualization system for viewing, collaborating, and presenting complex technical information on flat vertical displays that create an immersive theatre environment. The result is the sensation of being immersed in a visual room with surround sound, creating a virtual environment.

The new center can serve and support the numerous private engineering firms within a 150-mile radius of Riverstone in addition to state and federal agencies such as the Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, and other land management and regulatory agencies. New corporate partners bring an international focus to the program, with many projects already underway in modeling and simulation in developing countries such as Belize and Africa.

With annual salaries in modeling and simulation averaging from $55,000 to $85,000, the center will support efforts by Old Dominion University and nearby community colleges to develop curricula to support the center's work. Two corporate partners say they are now considering Riverstone as a business location because the Modeling and Simulation Center of Excellence would bring significant e-learning experience. There is an expectation that online learning, software, and textbooks will be co-developed with the new center as it relates to modeling and simulation, a growing and emerging research field.

President John Cavan of Southside Virginia Community College has committed to work on the academic side of the project. "I am excited about the opportunities for enhancing our course offerings through increased economic development in the region," he said.

The Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation and the Conservation Management Institute, an institute within the College of Natural Resources at Virginia Tech, were two of the early program partners. In a market research study, the Southside Business Technology Center identified the Virginia Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation Center of Old Dominion University as a primary partner for the new outreach venture.

Six months ago, Virginia Tech and Virginia Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation Center leadership signed a cooperative agreement to enable the two organizations to collaborate on projects and complement their efforts in the modeling and simulation arena.

The Virginia Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation Center focuses on the homeland security, medical, and transportation areas, while the Virginia Tech outreach program focuses on energy and the environment. The two organizations provide a holistic approach to one of the fastest growing areas in technology, modeling, and simulation.

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