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GeoWall comes to SU
GeoWall comes to SUSeptember 12, 2007Judy Holmesjlholmes@syr.edu
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a 3-D image must be priceless. That’s the thinking behind GeoWall, a visualization system that transforms bits and bytes of data from multiple sources into 3-D images, which enable students and researchers to peer into the Earth’s crust, the molecular structure of a mineral, the atmosphere, or planets and galaxies beyond the confines of Earth.
First developed at the University of Minnesota by Paul Morin for earth science education and research, GeoWall was recently introduced to Syracuse University by Jeffrey Karson, Jesse Page Heroy Professor and chair of the Department of Earth Sciences in The College of Arts and Sciences.
“The GeoWall gives us the ability to explore and look at the Earth’s surface from the bottom up,” Karson says. “A student’s success in earth science classes is commonly determined by his or her ability to understand the Earth’s structures in three dimensions. While we train students to do that, the GeoWall facilitates the process and enables more students to access the 3-D world.”
This semester, GeoWall will be used in lab classes for students enrolled in earth sciences freshman-level, gateway courses. The system will be set up in a 3-D visualization studio in the Heroy Geology Laboratory, which will include a small theater for presentations and space where students can access the equipment to create their own 3-D images for class projects.
“It’s very important for our students to learn the capabilities of visualization technologies and to learn to build their own images from data that is publicly available and from research data that is generated from their own field work,” Karson says.
GeoWall is a low-cost visualization system that is built using a desktop computer running Windows, Linux or Macintosh OS X; fast graphics cards; two projectors; polarized filters; a projection screen that is coated with a special polarization preserving material; and software applications that support “side-by-side” stereo. Data can be imported into the system from any source. For example, publicly available earthquake seismic data have been used to build a 3-D image of a deep-ocean subduction zone — an area where the Earth’s crust is destroyed as one lithosphere plate slides under another.
Robert Lyons, a student in the earth sciences department’s PH.D program, built a 3-D image of the deep sediment of Lake Bosumtwi. Located in southern Ghana, the lake formed 1.1 million years ago after a meteor crashed into the Earth’s surface. Six years ago, Christopher Scholz, associate professor of earth science, led a research team that mapped the lake’s subsurface using seismic reflection profiling, a technique that uses reflected sound energy to gather information about structures and sediments below the Earth’s surface. With GeoWall, Lyons transformed a two-dimensional graph of the data into a colorful, three-dimensional image of the lake’s subsurface, enabling viewers to actually look inside the deepest layers of sediment. One of the most striking features of the image is the visualization of the central uplift, a common feature of some meteor impacts.
“If you completely drained the lake, you would only see a flat floor,” says Karson. “The details of the impact structure that you see in the 3-D image are actually located inside the deepest layers of the sediment. You are actually peering inside the sediment. These kinds of things are really hard for students to conceptualize without this kind of visualization technology. Beyond the classroom, GeoWall provides a framework for other kinds of detailed studies — from studies of the structures of the largest planets to tiny atoms. The applications are limitless.”