JOHN DAVIES: Center helps re-imagine a new Northwest Indiana

2011-11-13T00:00:00Z JOHN DAVIES: Center helps re-imagine a new Northwest IndianaBy John Davies nwitimes.com
November 13, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Imagine Northwest Indiana as a best-in-class resource for cutting-edge solutions to high-tech problems, from trouble-shooting to "what if" scenarios.

It's not as far-fetched as you might think.

The grand opening of the new Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation at Purdue University Calumet was an awakening.

For those of us present, it demonstrated just how far this region has come in solving problems through advanced technology. Much has been written about the center and how it employs simulation and virtual reality visualization to get "inside" complicated structures.

Wearing 3D glasses, we witnessed what the steel industry regards as an industry first — inside a virtual blast furnace with vectors representing coke, iron ore and other elements streaming at us.

Standing in front of the immersion theater, it was like having a 360-degree view of iron-making and seeing the process flow as it actually happens inside this huge furnace.

Tremendous credit, of course, goes to the entire Purdue team, for a project of this scale doesn't happen without the assistance of many individuals and groups. Especially helpful were ArcelorMittal, BP, NIPSCO and U.S. Steel, which have benefited from this new technology and saved millions of dollars.

But special congratulations goes to new Chancellor Thomas L. Keon; Chancellor Emeritus Howard Cohen, who saw the merits of establishing the center several years ago; and especially Chenn Zhou, who is director of the center and leads this initiative.

To get a better understanding of the science behind this technology, I visited with Zhou. She is on the cutting edge of a field called computational fluid dynamics, and has studied it for the past 30 years.

This is a complicated science that demonstrates how processes actually work, but it is challenging to explain to people outside the industry. It was used years ago by the aerospace industry to create new aircraft models and space vehicles. Still, it was difficult for people not familiar with this technology to understand its effectiveness.

When the forerunner of this new application was being developed, Zhou remembers visiting Argonne National Laboratory years ago and seeing how virtual reality could solve real world problems for business and industry.

Today, she is a leader in this applied science. Today, the Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation brings together simulation that "models real phenomena" and visualization that "creates three-dimensional images and virtual reality environments." She described it as a dream come true.

Just imagine the applications across all sectors, from virtual design to virtual training to business attraction. But maybe one of the most important benefits is to transform how we look at ourselves.

Maybe it is time to re-imagine Northwest Indiana as a region that looks to the future, rather than to the past.

John Davies is managing director of The Society of Innovators of Northwest Indiana, launched by Ivy Tech Community College Northwest and is president of Woodlands Communications Group. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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