Dr. Robert Kooima, On the Power of Real-time Imaging

by Morgan Kastner

Dr. Robert Kooima says he was in the “first generation of kids to grow up with a computer in the home,” which sparked his interest in computer science. He learned how to program and decipher programming languages throughout his childhood, so when it came time to decide what he wanted to study, the natural choice was computer science. In college, his focus turned to graphics and then more specifically to the possibilities of real-time imaging. He received his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Illinois at Chicago and soon after joined the LSU faculty. Now an assistant professor at LSU, he encourages students of all skill levels interested in computer science to pursue the field, and he stresses that you don’t need prior experience to succeed.

We spoke with Kooima to learn more about his studies with real-time imaging systems.

Leveraging Game Design Techniques

Kooima says he had chances in college to work with both movie graphics or video graphics, but he focused on the latter. Video graphics are used in real-time imaging systems, which consist of software and hardware that let people explore imagery interactively. “It is usually 3D and vast in scale and scope,” Kooima says. He works throughout the whole creation process, which includes data capture, processing and display.

The work involves techniques and technologies used for game design and visual-effects production, but Kooima uses his knowledge to research visualization and interaction with real-time imaging systems that allow for exploration and a new understanding of information and data.  

The Beauty of Interactive Installations

Kooima has paired with Dr. Yimin Zhu, an LSU construction management professor, to install a virtual-reality infrastructure, called a “cave,” in the renovated Patrick F. Taylor building. The installation in a large room will surround its audience with display technology to transport them to “another place or an impossible place,” Kooima says. The best part is that once it is open — possibly in the late fall of 2016 — it will be available for all students for experiments, presentations and software development, he says. The interactive, immersive technology can help people visualize data, look at molecules, take them to outer space and much more, he says.

Such massive installations require the manipulation of huge quantities of data, Kooima says. For example, he has created installations that place viewers on the surface of Mars or the moon, using data from space probes. Whole planets can be explored and discovered in this way, he says. “When you bring all that data together, it is first and foremost naturally beautiful. Then you get to explore it with the knowledge that it is entirely real,” he says. Through his installations we are able to explore, learn and connect with places and information we would never get the chance to experience otherwise.

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