Campus News

Bowdoin Prof Earns Grant for Virtual Reality Lab of Coastal Studies Center

Story posted July 15, 1999

BRUNSWICK, Maine -- Carey Phillips, professor of biology, whose work is already at the forefront of educational technology, is embarking on a new project with the assistance of a $75,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

He will create a virtual laboratory model of Bowdoin's Coastal Studies Center to aid in teaching and research.

The virtual world will mirror the Coastal Studies Center, including the laboratories, trees, shrubs and anything else on the property. It will include the results of research performed by faculty and students, as well as data collected continuously at the Center (such as weather, tides, soil condition).

Students, faculty and researchers from around the world will be able to enter the on-line universe to learn and to discuss research. When a person enters, they will be represented by a computer figure known as an avatar. These avatars will allow users to see when another user is considering a particular aspect of the database and enable them to engage in "near real time" conversation via computer.

The virtual world will be a storehouse of data collected by many people over time and will contribute depth and perspective to future research projects. As far as we know, no other college or university has created a virtual world to enhance research in this manner.

Phillips expects to complete the prototype (mapping a portion of the 118-acre center) in about a year. At that point he likely will apply for a $500,000 grant to build the full version.

Phillips has in the past created computer models to aid in his teaching. For example, to teach students about the human eye, he began with a three- dimensional advanced drawing of the eye and all of its parts. Students are able to "fly through the eye" via the computer program.

The Apple computer company has recognized Phillips's work and an article on it is featured on Apple's web site at


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