Art and Science, Virtual and Real, Under One Big Roof

From The New York Times:

Rit_2 TROY, N.Y. — On a hillside overlooking this college town on the banks of the Hudson, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has erected a technological pleasure dome for the mind and senses. Eight years and $200 million in the making, the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, or Empac, resembles an enormous 1950s-era television set. But inside are not old-fashioned vacuum tubes but the stuff of 21st-century high-tech dreams dedicated to the marriage of art and science as it has never been done before, its creators say — 220,000 square feet of theaters, studios and work spaces hooked to supercomputers.

Within its walls, the designers say, scientists can immerse themselves in data and fly through a breaking wave or inspect the kinks in a DNA molecule, artists can participate in virtual concerts with colleagues in different parts of the world or send spectators on trips through imaginary landscapes, and architects can ponder their creations from the inside before a single brick or two-by-four has been put in place. It opens for business on Oct. 3 with a three-week gala of performances including classical music, virtual reality rides, symposiums and celebrations. Some scientists dream of eventually using the new center to create a version of the “Star Trek” holodeck where humans can interact with life-size “synthetic creatures” who live only in a computer. Others plan to teach surgery by doing virtual procedures or taking doctors on tours through models of actual hearts and circulatory systems.

“What you do is a function of what you want to do,” said Shirley Ann Jackson, a physicist and president of Rensselaer since 1999. In terms of scale and the combination of performance and research at a university, “Nothing can be compared to this,” she said. “To our knowledge, there is nothing else like it.”

More here.

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