The University Record, May 7, 2001

Projects demonstrate potential of information technology

See accompanying article on the report of the President's Information Revolution Commission

By Nancy Ross-Flanigan
News and Information Services

Computer-based tools that allow users to “fly through” the human body; a course that teams up students in Michigan, Korea and the Netherlands to design and produce products—any number of projects already under way at the University demonstrate the impressive potential of information and communication technology in teaching, research and outreach. Here are just a few examples.

Visible Human

Instead of looking at pictures in a textbook, anatomy students soon may be able to “fly through” 3-D computer images of the human body, clicking on a specific organ to learn more about it or to see how it interacts with other parts of the body. That is the goal of the Visible Human Project, a long-term effort to create complete, anatomically detailed, 3-D representations of the male and female human bodies. Video, audio, text and graphics are linked to the 3-D representation to explain and expand on the images.

Eventually, the Visible Human will be delivered with Next Generation Internet technology, allowing hundreds of students simultaneously to use the learning tool. The project is a joint effort involving the University of Michigan; NASA’s Ames Research Center; the University of California, San Diego; Stanford University; University of Colorado Health Sciences; the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center; and the Uniformed Service University of the Health Sciences, with funding from the National Institutes of Health/National Library of Medicine. For more information, visit the Web at

Global Product Realization course

Motivated by industry’s need for engineers who can think globally to develop products for a world market, Debasish Dutta, director, Interdisciplinary Professional Programs and professor of mechanical engineering, has created a course that teaches such skills simultaneously to students in North America, Europe and Asia. The real-time course, offered for the first time during the fall 2000 term, involves students and instructors from the U-M, the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands and Seoul National University in South Korea. The students are divided into six-person project teams with two members from each site. Teams use videocon-ferencing, e-mail, telephones, faxes and interactive Web tools to collaborate on the design and fabrication of a product for the global marketplace.

Virtual Reality-Enhanced Medical Readiness Trainer

In a project that combines immersive virtual reality environments, virtual video conferencing and other advanced technologies, U-M researchers are developing a highly realistic virtual medical theater that can be used to train emergency personnel in a variety of situations, both common and extreme. For example, without endangering any real patients, interns can be immersed in the chaotic, fatigue-laden environment of an emergency room to test their ability to rapidly develop and carry out a plan of action.

The project is an interdisciplinary effort involving the Medical Center, the Department of Emergency Medicine, the Media Union and the Virtual Reality Laboratory at the College of Engineering. For more information, visit the Web at

One Sky, Many Voices

Two or three times each year, this project allows more than 10,000 fourth- through ninth-graders throughout North America to study science first-hand—tracking and predicting hurricanes along with National Hurricane Center scientists, for example. Using CD-ROMs and network-based learning and collaboration tools, the students learn traditional science material but also experience the power and excitement of following and studying phenomena as they are unfolding. For more information, visit the Web at


A joint project of the Center for Performing Arts and Technology and the College of Engineering, MusEn seeks to apply new digital signal technology to the study and performance of music. One goal is to develop a signal-processing tool that converts an acoustic music recording into a musical score.

This tool not only would be useful in music composition and scoring, it also could help musicologists study improvisation in jazz performance, transcribe archived recordings of early American blues and folk songs, or create notational systems from recordings of non-Western forms of music. For more information, visit the Web at

AIDS Research Collaboratory

AIDS researchers based at the U-M and three other Midwestern universities share and discuss data and even hold “virtual lab meetings” through the use of collaborative technology. The researchers, who received a joint National Institutes of Health grant to establish a virtual Center for AIDS Research, meet in cyberspace to decide what kinds of data to collect, how to collect and analyze the data, and how to display their results.

By collaborating in this way, the researchers say they gain fresh perspectives that sometimes lead their research in new directions. In addition, the project yields insights of other kinds. For example, as researchers at the School of Information coordinate the scientists’ use of collaborative technology, they also study how it helps or hinders their ability to work together.