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Jim Oliver, Virtual Reality Applications Center, (515) 294-2649
Jim Bernard, Virtual Reality Applications Center, (515) 294-0360
Tom Barton, Institute for Physical Research and Technology,
(515) 294-2770
Steve Karsjen, Institute for Physical Research and Technology,
(515) 294-5643
Annette Hacker, News Service, (515) 294-3720

VRAC founder and current director James Bernard to step down

AMES, Iowa -- James Oliver has been appointed director of the Virtual Reality Applications Center (VRAC) at Iowa State University. Oliver's appointment is effective Jan. 1, 2004.

Oliver will replace James Bernard, holder of an Anson Marston Distinguished Professorship in engineering, who is stepping down after 13 years as VRAC director to pursue other interests.

"It would be impossible to overstate the contributions of Jim Bernard in bringing VRAC to a position of leadership in the international world of virtual reality research," said Tom Barton, director of ISU's Institute for Physical Research and Technology, or IPRT, of which VRAC is a leading member. "Jim leaves some mighty big shoes, but we're confident Jim Oliver will be able to fill them."

In making the appointment, Barton cited Oliver's experience in both academia and private industry.

"In addition to his outstanding background in software development, Jim brings a valuable understanding of the needs of industry to an organization that strongly promotes industry interactions," said Barton. "His appointment will provide VRAC with the strong leadership necessary for the center to grow as opportunities for application of virtual reality and other advanced computer technologies continue to expand."

Oliver is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Iowa State. He is also chair of the newly established graduate program in human computer interaction, or HCI, and his research focuses on HCI applications in engineering. Prior to that, he held numerous positions in both the private and public sectors. Most recently, Oliver was vice president of software development for Cognicity, Inc. of Minneapolis, Minn., and senior director of software development for Engineering Animation, Inc. of Ames.

From 1993 to 1997, Oliver was the associate director for the Iowa Center for Emerging Manufacturing Technology, the predecessor organization to VRAC. Oliver also was an assistant and then associate professor of mechanical engineering at ISU from 1991 to 1997 before leaving for several years to work in industry. He is author of numerous journal articles. Past professional honors include the Gustus L. Larson Memorial Award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers International in 1999, and the Young Engineering Faculty Research Award from ISU in 1996.

In accepting the appointment, Oliver said, "I look forward to leading the center and working with my colleagues to enhance ISU's reputation as a center of excellence in the application of virtual reality and other next-generation computer technologies to challenges in science, engineering and the humanities." Praising his predecessor, Jim Bernard, Oliver said, "I hope to continue in the tradition of excellence that Jim established. It was his vision and determination that got us where we are."

Research at VRAC centers around developing computer interfaces that integrate virtual environments, wireless networking, pervasive computing and third-generation user interface devices to amplify the creativity and productivity of people. VRAC is home to the C6, the world's first fully immersive six-sided virtual reality theater with wireless tracking and navigation. VRAC is involved in approximately $10 million in ongoing contract research with companies such as Deere & Company and Procter and Gamble, and government agencies, such as the National Science Foundation. VRAC provides research support for more than 30 faculty and over 130 graduate and undergraduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

More information on VRAC can be found at

In addition to VRAC, IPRT includes nine other scientific research centers at ISU. Information on IPRT can be found at


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