Yuchen Liu/THE REVIEW
A brisk, fifteen-minute walk from the Green, is the the Science, Technology and Advanced Research Campus (STAR Campus). Although it may be unfamiliar to students and faculty not actively pursuing or working in the field of health sciences, STAR Campus has been an extremely valuable center for research and development since its transformation from the Chrysler plant in 2009.
Over the years, STAR Campus has undergone continuous additions and upgrades. Still, it continues to grow both in size and technology. As a product of this growth, STAR Campus has earned itself national recognition, including a 2016 ranking by the U.S. News and World Report, which identified the university’s physical therapy program as No. 1.
Despite being a relatively young facility, the work done at STAR Campus has already begun to prove itself to be a leading and dependable source of innovation in the multi-disciplinary realm of the health sciences. STAR Campus’ main building is currently home to a number of classrooms, laboratories, offices, services open to the public and most recently, a virtual reality cave.
The Virtual Reality and Orthotics Gait Lab has yet to be utilized to its full capacity, but has far-reaching implications. According to Michael Smith, director of strategic initiatives and partnerships at the STAR Health Sciences Complex, the virtual reality system “will deal mostly with concussions and Parkinson’s Disease.” Its goal is to provide researchers with a better understanding of how these types of neurological diseases and injuries affect individuals who suffer from associated symptoms.
The virtual reality cave is housed in a single room complete with several monitors, a large computer-generated simulation screen and a treadmill-like apparatus built into the floor.
Essentially, patients will be hooked up to sensors while being put through a series of virtual tasks. These tasks will include, but are not limited to, walking, running and specifically for elderly Parkinson’s patients and navigating the inside of a house, according to Smith. Each of these given scenarios will be dependent on the patient, taking into account the severity of their condition and overall lifestyle.
The goal, Smith said, is to be able to observe and analyze these individuals in an environment that closely mimics the real world while still allowing scientists to perform comprehensive tests.
Individuals will feel as though they are legitimately engaging in the simulated activity.
Smith said that the long term objective of the research conducted inside the virtual lab facility aims to not only benefit patients and their specific conditions directly, but also gather information that will eventually be shared with the public.
Today, neurological research is a very popular topic that a number of scientists are becoming involved in. Smith implied that the observations collected from inside the virtual reality cave hold a great deal of relevance.
In regards to concussions, there is constant speculation among scientists and analysts as to what causes these head injuries and what the short and long term ramifications are. Smith noted that the virtual reality cave will attempt to answer some of these questions and educate society in a way that adds to their awareness of these issues.
Open to students, faculty and scientists, the virtual reality system will be utilized most by graduate students. The laboratory, however, will be open to everyone interested as individuals are encouraged to take advantage of the contemporary technological resource.
The brand new virtual reality system will help the university transcend classroom boundaries and connect with a broader demographic.