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October 2001

News about Science, Technology and Engineering at Iowa State University

Training troops with virtual reality
Soldiers may one day be given memories of places they've never been by undergoing training in a virtual reality system. That's one goal of research underway at Iowa State University's Virtual Reality Applications Center, in cooperation with the Iowa National Guard and its Iowa Technology Center unit. The effort will provide Iowa Guard personnel with comprehensive and flexible training simulations.

"We'll be putting soldiers in the middle of simulated missions, giving them valuable first-hand experience without putting them in harm's way," said Adrian Sannier, associate director of VRAC and the project's principal investigator. VRAC specializes in "immersive" virtual reality, where users are surrounded in images and sound to make the experience seem as realistic as possible.

The project will also explore command and control, using virtual immersion to help clear the confusion that can accompany complex operations. Researchers will build synthetic theaters in which the massive amounts of data that characterize modern engagements are synthesized and displayed real-time in a 3-D virtual environment. "This research helps us understand how people can perform complex tasks more effectively using computer-generated immersive worlds," Sannier said. For more information, contact Sannier, (515) 294-7383, or Robert Mills, IPRT Public Affairs, (515) 294-1113.

Technique focuses on ink in questionable documents
John McClelland, assistant scientist at Ames Laboratory, may be able to give forensic scientists a jump on locating pen-wielding criminals. McClelland was awarded a $160,000 grant from the National Institute of Justice to develop a new method for identifying different types of inks by looking at their molecular composition.

If the project is successful it could enable forensic scientists to determine if ink on "questionable documents" has the same molecular composition as ink present in a particular pen or on a second document. This would provide a method of checking a document's authenticity. McClelland said this information could be used as evidence and could help determine the innocence or guilt of a suspected criminal.

"We plan to do this by measuring how different colors of infrared light are absorbed by a tiny ink sample punched from a suspect document," McClelland said.

McClelland's technique is derived from photoacoustic spectroscopy (PAS), which was first invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1898. It is based on the fact that different types of ink absorb light in a different ways. This is a function of the wavelengths (different colors) of infrared radiation, and allows researchers to identify a specific type of ink. Using PAS, McClelland can discern where a document originated from by testing for the specific type of ink used to write the document. For more information, contact McClelland, (515) 294-7948; Bridget Bailey, ISU News Service, (515) 294-6881; or Skip Derra, ISU News Service, (515) 294-4917.

Long-term weather patterns might mask deforestation effects
Global climate patterns apparently are muting the effects of deforestation. As a result, the true effects of deforestation might be far worse than what is currently detected, according to a team of Iowa State University researchers.

Massive deforestation, like what is taking place in the Amazon Basin of South America, is predicted to result in a general warming and drying of that land mass. But over a recent 40-year period (1950-1990) what actually has happened is a 20 percent increase in rainfall, which appears to be the result of global climate patterns. Understanding the effects of long-term global climate patterns on areas like the Amazon Basin could have important implications ranging from determining the true effects of deforestation and reforestation efforts in parts of those areas, to altering soil erosion and the ability of species to re-emerge in altered areas.

The researchers -- ISU geological and atmospheric science professors Tsing-Chang "Mike" Chen and Eugene Takle, and graduate students Jin-ho Yoon and Kathryn St. Croix -- describe their research in the October issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. Their paper "Suppressing Impacts of the Amazonian Deforestation by Global Circulation Change," is the first work to consider "interdecadal" changes, changes that happen over decades of time, in deforestation data.

"Many scientists have studied the effects of deforestation, but no one has paid much attention to interdecadal change," Chen said. "That is a very important component missing from the studies. It needs to be considered to get a true reading of the effects of deforestation."

"We expect in the coming decades that the rainy pattern may reverse," Takle explained. "If and when that happens, then the deforestation drying that everyone expected will be made even worse by the drying due to reversal of global circulation. We likely will see effects much worse than those described by current deforestation impact models."

For more information contact Chen, (515) 294-9874; Takle, (515) 294-9871; or Skip Derra, ISU News Service, (515) 294-4917.


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