Thursday, November 11, 2010

Scientists Gather at CMU to Talk about Gigapixels

CMU associate professor of robotics Illah Nourbakhsh says gigapixel images are changing the way scientists do research and the way they present their findings to the world. 220 scientists, educators and students are taking part in the Fine Conference on Gigapixel Imaging for Science this week on the CMU campus.

The technology has its roots in NASA labs when space exploration vehicles took hundreds of photos that were merged into massive panoramas. The technology has gained some fame recently with CMU’s GigaPan project. Nourbakhsh says the use of multiple high resolution images is starting to show up in a wide rang of disciplines. He says it is in use at the microscopic level where individual insects are being photographed hundreds of times, at the human scale with projects such as scans of fields of flowers where individual bees can be found doing their work, to the intergalactic scale being tackled by NASA scientists. Nourbakhsh says scientists are even using GigPan type technologies in time-lapse projects. “It lets the public visually understand science in ways that were not possible before and that means the public is better able to understand the future of the world and the way the public impacts the world,” says Nourbakhsh.

Nourbakhsh says he is excited by the fact that the event has drawn scientists from such a broad range of fields. Vertebrate paleontologists, for instance, will report at the conference on their use of gigapixel imaging to provide detailed documentation not only of the quarries where fossils were discovered but also of the fossils themselves. Entomologists will discuss how they used GigaPan to watch 3,200 cells in a beehive breeding frame over a period of 12 days as they searched for clues to Colony Collapse Disorder. “We’re still early in the evolution of this technology, but we hope that this conference will help us identify those areas where gigapixel imaging holds the most potential, whether as a research tool, an educational device or as a means of engaging the public at large,” says CMU scientist Randy Sargent.

Along with the scientific program, the conference will feature a juried gallery show at Carnegie Museum of Natural History in which eight images will be exhibited as prints measuring 4 feet high and up to 23 feet wide. The gallery prints will remain on display through the end of the year.

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