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Thursday, January 07, 2010

In the Spotlight - Bharat Soni, Ph.D.

imageDr. Bharat Soni, Ph.D. is internationally recognized for his contributions to computer modeling and simulation and is the chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at University of Alabama at Birmingham, Alabama.

When Dr. Soni arrived at UAB in 2002, he established the Enabling Technology Lab, which utilizes both 3-D and high-definition visualization technologies. The screen is 10 feet diagonal, which makes it significantly more immersive than other much more expensive systems. With this system, researchers can visualize their data in a stereoscopic virtual environment.

image The lab can simulate and visualize wind currents through cities, blood flow through arteries, and air flow around a car or airplane. The Enabling Technology Lab has assembled a facility—a virtual-reality environment that can be used for a host of creative applications. Here in virtual reality enironment amputees can learn to ski without risking serious injury; bomb squads can disarm explosive devices with no chance of casualties; and surgeons can make perfect incisions and perform flawless operations—before they ever touch a patient. This “visualization cube” is the latest expansion of the school’s computer imaging and simulation capabilities, and it could lead to revolutionary advances in a host of fields, including engineering, medicine, rehabilitation, emergency management, and education.

The facility immerses the user in a virtual environment that is remarkably realistic, says Dr. Bharat Soni. “At UAB, we’re using this technology mostly for engineering and health-care applications, but the possibilities really are endless.”

The Virtual Patient: imageDr. Soni demonstrates images of CT and MRI scans on the 3-D screen in the school’s Enabling Technology Laboratory. A life-size image of a human pelvis rotates on the screen, turning 360 degrees to allow the viewer to examine it from every angle. Such images provide more information than the standard two-dimensional versions; but when projected in a visualization cube, they could offer an even more immersive environment.image

Dr. Soni says he envisions a future where doctors can use this visualization technology—along with “haptic” devices that add the element of touch—to improve their real-world skills. “One of our goals is to one day allow surgeons to conduct critical procedures in a virtual environment so that they can see exactly what issues might arise,” says Dr. Soni. “They can get all the kinks out before they ever enter an operating room.”

The technology could also be used in the classroom, where virtual patients could reduce the need for cadavers in medical schools. “The savings in time and expenses would be tremendous,” Dr. Soni says. “Imagine how much more efficiently students could be trained by performing procedures in this environment.”

The Virtual Patient System is a collaborative effort between the School of Nursing and UAB School of Engineering. This project will produce a Virtual Patient on a customized stereoscopic display system configured to mimic a patient bed.

From Simulation to Rehabilitation
Computer-based visualization and simulation have long been strengths of the School of Engineering. As advanced and informative as these simulations are, however, they are only images. The new visualization cube will help bridge the gap between simulation and real-world application by adding an immersive component.

UAB’s 3D VisCube Will Enable Surgeons to Practice Procedures, Engineers to Test Structures from uabnews on Vimeo.

Dr. Soni’s team is exploring collaborations with the School of Health Professions and Birmingham’s Lakeshore Foundation to allow patients to perform rehabilitation activities in the controlled environment of the visualization cube. For example, amputees are often taught to water ski as part of their therapy in order to strengthen the necessary muscles and improve their balance. For such patients, the cube can become a lake, and with the help of haptic and other devices, they can experience virtual waterskiing with minimal risk.

The cube also will allow therapists to closely monitor patients and might even be a useful environment for gait analysis and other tests, Dr. Soni says. “It also gives the patients the feeling of actually participating in these activities. It allows them to build confidence and a comfort level that is very important to rehabilitation.”

Future is 3-D
As rapidly as 3-D technology is being applied to areas such as medicine and education, it is the entertainment industry that’s moving fastest to push the technology into wide-scale use, Dr. Soni says.

“There were 15 movies scheduled to come out in 2009 that were available in 3-D,” Dr. Soni adds. And major electronics makers are already producing 3-D televisions, “so the entertainment industry is definitely a step ahead in getting the technology out there. 3-D movies are only 30% more expensive to make. In 20 years we will be watching movies in the middle of our floors.”

Given the everyday exposure of children to the excitement of 3-D entertainment, Dr. Soni says schools are teaching only from textbooks and using the same methods that were established decades ago. “We need to find new ways to incorporate technology into education,” he says. “At UAB we’re already using simple simulations to introduce high school students to engineering concepts, but we need to get more of those types of innovations into the classroom so children find learning more exciting.”

Education and training, medicine, homeland security, rehabilitation—these are just a few of the areas where Dr. Soni believes 3-D visualization technology has the power to greatly enhance safety, efficiency, and fun.
imageAt 8′x8′ and the 3×3 configuration, the VisWall in the Enabling Technology Lab is capable of a combined screen resolution of 3000×2300 pixels. It provides users with a display solution to visualize data or images at an ultra-high resolution. The transparent display allows viewers to look at and see through the screen that makes the image as is suspended in mid-air. It gives an impression of almost-3D depth.


Partnering with Center for the Study of Preparedness and Catastrophic Event Response (PACER)

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UAB is a partner institution with PACER.  This particular task within PACER program is to design an urban chemical disaster simulation system. The Enabling Technology Laboratory, along with its sister Computational Simulation Laboratory, contribute to this project in geometry, meshing, wind field simulation, and pollutant transport for modeling and simulation to move toward the mission of PACER: to improve the Nation’s preparedness and its ability to respond in the event of a high consequence natural or manmade disaster to alleviate the event’s effects by developing and disseminating best scientific practices.


Initiatives

Energy is a big focus for Dr. Bharat Soni. He has submitted a proposal to National Science Foundation in partnership with Southern Company.  He is working closely with organizations in India and China in this effort – Geologic Carbon Sequestration. Per Dr. Soni, “In Alabama, we have abundance of coal, we need to find a mechanism to store it underground and maintain”.

His other big focus is in the area of Interdisciplinary graduate program. He has established a new program of research that combines different disciplines such biology/ physics/ engineering etc and will produce world-class scientists.


Dr. Soni’s Professional Background

Advancement In Rank

1994Professor Mississippi State University
1988Associate Professor Mississippi State University
1987Associate Research ProfessorUniversity of Alabama at Huntsville


Consulting, Patents, Awards and Honors

•      1974 N.M. Bhatt Gold Medal, Highest Points in Statistics at Mississippi State University
•      Outstanding Researcher, College of Engineering, Mississippi State University
•      Associate Fellow, AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics), 1999-Present
•      Grid Generation Trust Leader, NSF/Engineering Research Center for Computational Field Simulation, Mississippi State University
•      Hearin-Hess Distinguished Professor, College of Engineering, Mississippi State University
•      2001-2002 Eminent Scholar, College of Engineering, Mississippi State University


Membership in Scientific and Professional Societies

ISGG (International Society of Grid Generation)
AIAA (American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics), Associate Fellow
ASEE (American Society of Engineering Education)
ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers)
SIAM (Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics)
U.S. Society of Computational Mechanics


Professional Development Activities in the Last Five Years

•      General Chairman, International Conference on Numerical Grid Generation in Computational Field Simulations, San Jose, CA (2005)
•      General Chairman, International Conference on Numerical Grid Generation in Computational Field Simulations, Crete, Greece (2007)


Invited colloquium addresses:

•      Workshop on CFD Pre-Processing: State of the Practice and Future Directions, AFRL, Dayton, OH, January 2006
•      SAROD 2005, December 2005, Hyderabad, India
•      Shizhuoda University, Japan, December 2004
•      SIMAI 2004, Sardinia, Italy
•      MASCOT 2004, Florence Italy, November 2004
Reviewer for several journals, including Journal of Applied Mathematics and Computations, Journal of Numerical Methods in Engineering, AIAA Journal of Spacecraft, Journal of Computational Physics, Journal of Computer Aided Design, IEEE, Journal of Computer Graphics

References: UAB web site, UAB Magazine

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