March 20, 2006

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Examining a topographic map
Examining a topographic map in the geology lab are (left to right) Drs. Charles Onasch, Dale Klopfer, Laura Leventhal and Guy Zimmerman.

Psychology, computer science, geology faculty pool expertise to boost student learning

Dr. Dale Klopfer, chair of the psychology department, and his co-principal investigator Dr. Laura Leventhal, computer science, along with Dr. Charles Onasch, chair of the geology department, and Dr. Guy Zimmerman, computer science, have received a $121,375 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to look at how students learn to think in three dimensions and how they can overcome the problems associated with 3D spatial visualization.

Titled “Empowering Student Learning in the Geologic Sciences with Three-Dimensional Interactive Animation and Low-Cost Virtual Reality,” the project takes a multidisciplinary approach to addressing a skill that could ultimately affect people’s decisions on whether to pursue science or math-based careers.

“Geology requires a high degree of spatial thinking and visualization,” Onasch said. “Everything we do is in 3D, whether it’s interpreting topographic maps as land-forms or the crystal structure of a mineral as a cube filled with atoms bonded together at right angles. You must be able to visualize the 3D geometry.”

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