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Fostering creativity

The emerging Digital Research and Education in Arts Media Institute, known as eDream, is celebrating its fifth anniversary. I’m proud to say the institute’s overarching mission of fostering creativity by enabling unique trans-disciplinary connections has yielded some impressive results.

One important milestone for eDream is the establishment of the eDream Fiddler Innovation Endowment dedicated to student and faculty interdisciplinary innovation. University of Illinois alumni Jerry Fiddler and Melissa Alden committed $2 million for an endowment that will provide ongoing funding to stimulate interdis-ciplinary undergraduate research and new curriculum. Through the NCSA SPIN program (Students Pushing INnovation), eDream offers internship opportunities to undergraduate students to explore advanced digital technologies in creative environments. In one year we have worked with 16 undergraduates from across campus. The Fiddler endowment will allow us to impact even more students.

eDream’s success can be attributed in large part to our approach: we locate unique opportunities at the intersection of research, education, and public engagement. This integrated approach allows us to support the University of Illinois faculty—over the past five years we’ve collaborated with 56 faculty members—and provides students a broader university experience that cannot be provided with online education or in a typical classroom.

For example, eDream collaborated with Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada, to analyze and visualize body motion using machine learning and advanced visualization algorithms. Another time we participated in pioneering experiments in global synchronized performances in music, theater, and dance using advanced high-speed networks among the University of Illinois and Japanese universities. eDream also enabled Illinois computer science students and dance students to explore techniques for interactive, performer-controlled sets and music for dance. They used “structured light” techniques to project augmented reality onto physical objects in the environment controlled by accelerometers and other sensors worn by the dancers.

A creative collaboration on the great Mississippi River flood of 1927 has toured the world. “The Great Flood” is a 75-minute multimedia work created by award-winning filmmaker Bill Morrison and Grammy Award-winning guitarist and composer Bill Frisell. NCSA’s Advanced Visualization Laboratory and eDream created visualizations based on data gathered by a team of Illinois researchers led by Shaowen Wang, head of the CyberInfrastructure and Geospatial Information Laboratory.

A major accomplishment is eDream’s contribution to a new graduate education program that focuses on emerging technology research. eDream provided substantial leadership for the Illinois Informatics Institute PhD program that was approved in 2011, quickly ramping up to 20 PhD candidates by the fall of 2013. eDream established the Art and Culture theme and provides grant support for PhD candidates in that area. In addition, eDream advises graduate students across campus who benefit from eDream’s creative research environments.

eDream also is an active participant in XSEAD, a new Virtual eXchange to support networks of creativity and innovation among Science, Engineering, Art and Design. Funded through an EArly-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) award from the National Science Foundation, XSEAD is a community platform where artists, designers, engineers, and scientists can explore the past, present, and future of collaborating across disciplines. It’s a place to share, discuss, and exchange on projects, processes, and outcomes. For innovators, it’s a dynamic and synergizing research and outreach exchange.

As you can see, eDream is as broad as the diverse creative arts and technologies that it encompasses. I often describe eDream as the “secret sauce.” It spices the Illinois experience and enhances the innovative work being done at our university and at NCSA. eDream is looking forward to the next five years of expanding upon these successes and contributing toward a strong academic program at NCSA.

Donna Cox
Director, eDream
Director, Advanced Visualization Laboratory

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