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Release: April 4, 2002  

UI Obermann Center hosts symposium on virtual environments

           A group of scholars engaged in ground-breaking research on using virtual environments to study human behavior will meet at the University of Iowa April 5-6 for a series of scholarly discussions and presentations. The Obermann Center/Spelman Rockefeller Symposium on Virtual Environments as Tools for Studying Human Behavior was organized by three UI professors -- Jodie Plumert (psychology), Joe Kearney (computer science) and Jim Cremer (computer science).

            Other symposium participants include Geoffrey Bingham, Indiana University; Herbert L. Pick, University of Minnesota; John Rieser, Vanderbilt University; Karl Rosengren, University of Illinois. They will discuss their work using virtual environments to study problems such as elderly driving behavior, perceptual-motor learning, and space perception. The symposium will also include roundtable discussions of the types of problems that virtual environments might be well suited to address and the challenges of using virtual environments to address these types of problems.

            The organizers note that virtual environments immerse subjects in worlds that appear physically real, but where conditions can be controlled. Virtual environments allow researchers to study subjects in simulated dangerous circumstances that lead to injury, but without putting subjects at risk.

            Jay Semel, director of the Obermann Center, said the symposium grew out of Plumert's pilot research on children's accidents, originally supported by an Obermann Center Spelman Rockefeller (CASSPR) grant. That project led to the three organizers' current study of "Virtual Environments as Laboratories for Studying Human Behavior," funded by National Science Foundation project and equipment grants totaling more than $450,000.

            The Obermann Center for Advanced Studies encourages scholarly interaction in order to explore broad frontiers of knowledge and to investigate complex ideas and problems. For more information, contact the Obermann Center at (319) 335-4034.