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New “RPI Computer Science” Center features

New RPI Computer Science Center features a marriage of Science and Arts

TROY (N.Y.)-After eight years and more than $200 million of planning, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center made its debut today at the school’s campus. RPI Computer Science describes the EMPAC to be a place for artists, visiting scholars and engineers, as well as designers, to explore the intersections of their disciplines and use the center’s large video screens, super-computer hookups to create immersive, interactive presentations.

Shirley Ann Jackson, RPI Computer Science president, described the EMPAC as a “balance of left and right-brain endeavors” during the opening ceremonies. She also compared the project to a particle accelerator or “an eruption, if I may,” which is a form of discovery and transformation science for dummys.

Peter Schwartz, the founder and chairman of San Francisco’s business consulting firm Global Business Network, and a 1968 RPI graduate, said at the celebrations that RPI had come a long distance since then.

The role of EMPAC will depend on how students and faculty use the space. Selmer Bringsjord is the director of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Artificial Intelligence & Reasoning Lab, and the chairman of the school’s department of cognitive sciences.

The center is a state of the art performance space that spans 220,000 feet (20,439 sq. meters) and includes studios, workspaces, and theaters. It also has a high-speed connection to RPI Computer Science Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations. This center houses an IBM Blue Gene supercomputer with 32,768 parallel processing units.

One of the goals is to let artists and researchers visualize their work at a large scale. Instead of a screen measuring 1,000 pixels by 1000 pixels, data can now be projected on a panoramic 360-degree screen that covers all four walls. It measures 4,000 pixels by 4000 pixels. James Hendler (RPI professor of computer science, cognitive science) says that supercomputing is not usually interactive. He says that this could change if researchers can create interactive presentations, such as a lecture on physics or a demonstration in a virtual environment. In these cases complex calculations can be performed and integrated in real-time. He says that EMPAC will be a technology support program for the arts, but it will also benefit technology.

The EMPAC is a similar concept to MIT’s Media Lab which was established in 1985. The difference is that the Media Lab was able to do artistic work with programs like Object-Based Media and Opera of the Future. However, the EMPAC plans merge art and research on RPI’s campus and offer a place for people to view the results.

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