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Animating the scientific world

Computer scientist Demetri Terzopoulos makes a point while discussing computer animation advances during the CoE's recent Sterling Hou lecture. Photo by Marty Walker

Imagine Buzz Lightyear with a mind of his own.

With the advance of computer animation, that’s not such far–fetched speculation. But Academy Award–winning computer scientist Demetri Terzopoulos told an MU audience recently that computer animation research promises advances in fields such as psychology and education far beyond those involved in movie–making techniques.

“This avenue offers numerous areas of promising research,” said Terzopoulos, chancellor’s professor of computer science at the University of California, Los Angeles and an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ (IEEE) fellow.

Terzopoulos discussed computer animation research at MU’s College of Engineering Sterling Hou lecture on Nov. 14.

In recent years, new capabilities in computer animation and artificial life have converged to pave the way for a broad range of scientific benefits from the field, Terzopoulos said. For example, he said the development of “intelligent” computer characters—characters that respond to their environment as well as programmed needs—can help predict certain behaviors as well as demonstrate living systems in classrooms.

Archeologists might use computer animation advances to people ancient buildings and possibly gain insight as to how those sites were used, Terzopoulos said.

While its potential is great, many scientific uses for the computer animation of “virtual humans” are just beginning to catch on, he said.

“It’s all fairly recent,” Terzopoulos said, “and there are still a lot of challenges ahead before these new technologies are embraced by scientists.

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