Research Team Creates Advanced Computer Display

Dr. Hughes and two student researchers construct a virtual reality system

This team's research is part of Roanoke's Undergraduate Research Assistants Program, which is designed to get students and faculty active in research together. The program pairs faculty members with incoming freshmen to conduct a research project that typically lasts four years, so that student researchers can carry out the project until their senior year. "URAP is a unique opportunity," says Hughes. "One of the benefits is that you get to work with freshmen. They come in not knowing much, so there is an initial investment. But they become self-sufficient pretty quickly and can do some amazing things."

Nunnally echoes Hughes in saying, "there's a lot of individual work, and I feel like Dr. Hughes is there to help me when I need him. But I also know that he's going to trust that I'm going to do it right."

"Before this, I didn't know how many things you could do with virtual reality," Balint says. "You can walk though ancient ruins, test people for motion sickness, train people - instead of bringing them out on a road to drive, you can train them on virtual reality."

Each student contributes to a different aspect of the cave's construction. Nunnally is responsible for setting up, running and laying out design for the software while Balint creates the maps, making 3D models and blueprints. They do, however, share a similar desire - since taking part in URAP, both student researchers say they've gained the confidence and interest to look into graduate programs after Roanoke.

But Hughes doesn't have two "yes men" on his team, agreeing with all of his ideas. "We have conflicts, and it's a great thing," he says. "We're constantly pushing each other to ask why we hold our beliefs, which is why we do research. I suspect that the truth lies somewhere between our intuitions, and I look forward to finding it."

Hughes earned his bachelor's degree in computer science from Dickinson College, his master's in computer science from Indiana University and his doctorate in information science from the University of Pittsburg. Nunnally, from Hagerstown, Md., is working on a major in business administration and computer science. He's part of the honors program and a member of Roanoke's track team. Balint, from Williamsburg, Va., is deciding between majoring in computer science and participating in the College's 3:2 engineering program.

For more information, visit the cave system's Web site.

Released: March 18, 2008