UB Takes Virtual Show on the Road to the Halls of Congress for Science Day 2000

Release Date: July 12, 2000 This content is archived.


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UB student Jason Rappleye, left, shows Rep. Jack Quinn and Michael Pietkiewicz, UB director of federal relations, a virtual tour of the Peace Bridge as part of Science Day 2000 held July 12 on Capitol Hill.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Hardboiled Beltway insiders probably think they know all there is about just how "virtual" reality can get.

But on July 12 on the third floor of the Cannon Building on Capitol Hill, members of Congress got the chance to truly experience virtual worlds, courtesy of a University at Buffalo exhibit on virtual reality.

The exhibit was part of Science Day, sponsored by the Science Coalition, which showcased the work of UB, along with that of four other universities -- the University of Illinois, Tufts University, the University of Minnesota and the University of Georgia.

As part of Science Day activities, UB President William R. Greiner and other presidents of major research universities participated in a White House meeting about the importance of funding basic scientific research. They met with John Pedasto, President Clinton's chief of staff; Gene Sperling, Clinton's economic advisor; Jack Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget; Neil Lane, Clinton's science advisor; Tom Kalil, a member of the National Economic Council, and David Beier, Vice President Gore's chief domestic policy advisor.

At the UB exhibit, members of Congress were able to step inside molecules of tomorrow's most potent drugs and redesign state-of-the-art factories with the click of a mouse, using 3D goggles and Fakespace Systems' ImmersaDesk, the "virtual reality" machine of UB's Center for Computational Research.

They learned how easy it is to use the world's first software package that virtually designs large-scale manufacturing plants, developed by UB researchers.

"Our software can provide manufacturers with tools that enable them to model before they build, to simulate before they produce and anticipate and solve production problems before they occur, all of which has the potential to lead to significant cost savings," said T. (Kesh) Kesavadas, Ph.D., assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UB and director of UB's Virtual Reality Laboratory, who was present at the July 12 exhibit.

"UB VR-Fact! allows individuals to immerse themselves in or 'fly through' an environment and virtually rearrange machines, equipment and other objects just by pointing and dragging," he said. "It becomes very intuitive."

Using the same machine, members of Congress were able to "step inside" vancomycin, the "antibiotic of last resort," the 3D structure of which was determined using software developed by scientists at UB and the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute in Buffalo.

This software, called SnB, allows researchers to solve difficult molecular structures based on X-ray diffraction data. Using the ImmersaDesk, UB researchers showed how viewing the solved structure as a virtual environment helps drug designers come up with more precisely targeted pharmaceuticals.

"Many biologically important proteins are so large you can't view the entire image in any meaningful way on a screen," said Russ Miller, Ph.D., UB professor of computer science and engineering, director of UB's Center for Computational Research and a developer of SnB. "So what you want to do is move around inside of the molecule so you can view portions of it at a time.

"For example, you can't make much sense of all the bonds and connections in a molecule that has 2,000 atoms in it when you see it on a screen all at once. But if you can zoom in and look at portions of the molecule up close in three dimensions, you don't get the distortions that you get in two dimensions," he explained. "This allows you to verify what exactly is in the molecule and therefore do rational drug design."

Along with Miller and Kesavadas, Tom Furlani, Ph.D., associate director of UB's Center for Computational Research and Bruce Pitman, Ph.D., professor of mathematics at UB and CCR director of outreach, were present at the exhibit. During the day, Miller met with numerous members of Congress, including Sen. Charles Schumer and congressmen John LaFalce, Jack Quinn, Amo Houghton, Rick Lazio, Tom Reynolds, Gregory Meeks, James Walsh and Maurice Hinchey.

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