Imagination and Innovation
“Doing” is a critical piece of a comprehensive education experience. Classroom instruction provides a firm foundation, but the application of knowledge elevates the university experience to an entirely new level. Firsthand learning opportunities are elemental to Virginia Tech’s academic programs, and nowhere is this more evident than in the university’s offerings in the arts. A powerful intersection has emerged— the fusion of arts and technology.
Avant-garde facilities can be found in every corner of Virginia Tech’s campus, but no space exemplifies the union of art and technology quite like the Cube in the Moss Arts Center. A four-story experimental space, the Cube is much more than a black box theatre for live performances and installations. A highly adaptable space outfitted with pioneering audio and visual equipment, the Cube is also a high-tech lab where students and researchers affiliated with the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology can explore, in real time, literally anything in the world—from the smallest molecule to the largest building—in full-scale virtual environments.
Researchers cannot, of course, physically stand inside a tornado to record observations. Instead, they rely on radar to describe the dynamics within a funnel. Comprised of thousands of 3-D data points, the data set is typically viewed on a flat-screen monitor as a static 3-D representation.
With the Cube’s audio and visual capabilities, however, the representation is no longer flat, no longer static. Using data from a 2013 tornado that touched down in Oklahoma, faculty members and students from meteorology, geography, and computer science replicated the tornado in virtual fashion. Penetrating the outer layers of rain, researchers walked into the tornado’s center.
In order to improve forecasting and warning systems—and, ultimately, to visualize weather events in real time—researchers hope to unlock the inner workings of tornadoes.
Making a (virtual) house a home
Imagine you’re building a house. Instead of looking at two-dimensional plans or renderings, you walk through a virtual model, inspecting the design before even a drop of concrete is poured.
A Virginia Tech team progressed from imagining to doing just that.
Fourteen engineering students are collaborating with professors of engineering, architecture, and psychology to create mixed-reality environments, where real and virtual worlds merge and allow physical and digital objects to interact. For its first project, the team created a virtual interactive framework for Virginia Tech’s FutureHAUS, a prototype residence that incorporates responsive design, prefabrication, and integrated technology.
Employing tablet computers and leveraging the Cube’s unparalleled capabilities, multiple users can simultaneously explore a virtual version of FutureHAUS. They climb stairs in the three-story home. They interact with each other, discussing construction materials and the position of lighting figures. They interact with the home’s features, testing the integrated technologies.
As the FutureHAUS team developed kitchen and living-room prototypes—and as its members work toward a full-scale home in the future—the Cube’s interactive environment allows them to improve the architectural design process, foster creative collaboration, and observe human behavior and practices.
Crafting an opera, gamer edition
Opera and video games aren’t often mentioned in the same breath, but Virginia Tech professors and students saw the connection—and the potential.
In a first-of-its-kind production combining the arts, education, technology, and storytelling, the team presented OPERAcraft, a research project and performance that merged opera and gaming.
Using Minecraft, a popular video game that allows users to create their own worlds and avatars, local high school students invented a virtual opera—from crafting a storyline and the libretto for the opera to designing and building the virtual set. With the help of Virginia Tech faculty members and students, OPERAcraft became a live production. As the virtual environment was projected on a huge scrim for the audience, high school students controlled the character avatars, adding body gestures and lip-syncing the finalized score, which was performed live by Virginia Tech music students.
From singing and videography to stage-managing and choreographing virtual fights within Minecraft, the undergraduates managed a project that required equal parts design, performance, and technology. They also witnessed firsthand how an interdisciplinary project can help younger students develop critical- and creative-thinking skills in a collaborative learning environment.