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December 2002

News about Science, Technology and Engineering at Iowa State University

Immersive virtual reality for the masses
A new low-cost, portable virtual reality system demonstrates how VR can be brought into the mainstream of computing. It was designed and built by faculty, staff and students of the Virtual Reality Applications Center at Iowa State University.

"We designed it to provide the best quality image possible at the lowest cost," said Carolina Cruz-Neira, associate director of VRAC and an associate professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering at ISU. The system uses standard personal computers, meeting-room video projectors and other off-the-shelf components.

The system consists of a number of self-contained display modules. These wedge-shaped aluminum structures hold an 8-foot-wide by 6-foot-tall, snap-on screen at the wide end and two computers and two projectors at the narrow end. The modules are on wheels to easily move and reconfigure the system. Using four modules, the system can be made into a room-like, immersive system with four walls or an ultrawide 32-foot-long display.

To keep costs down, the system uses polarized light and inexpensive polarized glasses to achieve the stereoscopic, 3-D images required for VR. For sound, it uses an audio system and speakers like those found in most desktop personal computers. The system can be set up in about two hours and does not require rooms with high ceilings. For more information, contact Cruz-Neira, (515) 294-5685; or Robert Mills, IPRT Public Affairs, (515) 294-1113.

Studying how antibiotics target disease
An Iowa State researcher is trying to find a better way to target disease. Gloria Culver, Iowa State assistant professor of biochemistry, biophysics, and molecular biology, was recently awarded more than $1 million from the National Institutes of Heath for a five-year study on ribosome assembly.

Culver's research involves understanding the structure and assembly of ribosomes, the machines within cells that translate genetic information into proteins. Proteins regulate the structure and function of the body's cells, tissues and organs. Examples of proteins include hormones, enzymes, and antibodies. Their role in protein development makes ribosomes one of the most fundamentally important cellular components, Culver said.

Each ribosome is comprised of two subunits and each of these subunits is comprised of many different parts, which makes understanding how these complex machines assemble a difficult task. Culver said that understanding how two ribosomal subunits are assembled may lead to improved target location for synthetic antibiotics to treat infections.

"We have accomplished our first goal, which was to identify components that facilitate the 30S ribosomal subunit assembly," Culver said. The initial work in this study was to demonstrate that the assembly factors exist, and to use biochemical techniques to identify the exact components -- something that had not previously been accomplished.

"Our work is the strongest evidence to date for the existence of bacterial ribosome assembly factors," Culver said. "Now we face the daunting task of elucidating how these factors act to facilitate assembly."

Culver now is attempting to identify other 30S subunit assembly factors from E. coli. She hopes this portion of the study will help her discover why these machines are so complex, if their complexity is required for function and how to use knowledge of their assembly to regulate cell growth. For more information, contact Culver, (515) 294-3382, or Bridget Bailey, ISU News Service, (515) 294-6881.

New surfaces could lead to longer lasting implants
Innovative surface designs may allow a material to be used more widely as surgical implants. Svetlana Shabalovskaya, an adjunct associate professor of physics at Iowa State University, and an interdisciplinary team of researchers -- including Pat Thiel, distinguished professor of chemistry, and Joan Cunnick, associate professor of microbioligy -- recently received a $180,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health for a two-year pilot study of Nitinol, an alloy of nickel and titanium. Ames Laboratory scientist Jim Anderegg also is a key researcher on the project.

The advantages of Nitinol include super elasticity and shape memory. Miniature shape-memory and super elastic implants made from Nitinol could be used in the field of minimal invasive surgery and help speed recovery of patients. With the help of super elastic guide-wire made from Nitinol, various Nitinol devices and implants could be delivered through blood vessels to the proper spot and be released to perform their duties. Shabalovskaya said implants and devices from Nitinol miniature wire are already used overseas as filters to catch blood clots in blood vessels, as "baskets" to remove gall bladder stones, as stents to keep open space in the organs and blood vessels, and as orthodontic wires. The work is to make the material less toxic.

"Our goal is to design the surface of the implant material so that it will not contain the toxic and allergic element nickel, and will be composed of inert titanium oxide that is stable in the human body," Shabalovskaya said. She added that surface stability is a key issue of implant service and the subject of the team's research. For more information, contact Shabalovskaya, (515) 294-1293; Thiel, (515) 294-7871; or Bridget Bailey, ISU News Service, (515) 294-6881.


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