Campus honors Uddin with Excellence in Guiding Undergraduate Research Award
Over the past decade, Prof. Rizwan Uddin has had many undergraduates work with him in the Virtual Education and Research Laboratory (VERL), where they have helped develop virtual reality learning experiences.
Recognizing his dedication to that segment of his group and the exceptional work they have accomplished, Uddin’s colleagues have chosen the Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering at Illinois professor for the 2017 Campus Award for Excellence in Guiding Undergraduate Research.
Uddin and his undergraduate research groups have used gaming technology to develop realistic experimental laboratory experiences that can be done on computers rather than with real hands-on equipment. The technology has been a boon to NPRE’s instructional efforts since students can repeat lab exercises multiple times anywhere with a computer. Students are provided the means to prepare for and redo labs without having direct access to the facilities.
The undergraduate researchers use 3-D virtual reality to transform the understanding of many of the physical processes. The technology also can be used to train radiation safety workers on how to enter and move around nuclear reactor areas that might induce radiation exposures. This training process can drastically reduce the time and exposure to those workers before they enter any real radiation environments.
Uddin said the undergraduates’ familiarity with gaming technology makes them uniquely suited to this type of research. “Students are in general much more comfortable and creative with this technology than most faculty members.
The younger the researcher, the more creative they are. Hence, my role has been that of a facilitator, and in providing ideas based on my experience rather than my technical skills in this area of research.
“As a result, undergraduate students are often the leading authors on the papers that have resulted from this work,” he said. “These applications, developed and reported by undergraduate students, are often the first of their kind, and have elicited broad interest, and have won best paper awards at conferences.”
The research has been featured as a cover story in the January 2013 issue of the Nuclear News, the national trade magazine of the American Nuclear Society. Attracted to the work have been undergraduates from NPRE, Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Chemical and Biological Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, and Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering.
The students have appreciated the freedom Uddin has allowed them in exploring ways to develop the technology. “His approach to guiding our research is innovative in a way in which we are completely free to create our own projects and come up with our own ideas in regards to VR (virtual reality) and 3D modeling, so long as they tie back into his central goal of using VR and 3D modeling as a form of education,” said Zahra Hanifah, a sophomore in chemical and biomolecular engineering. “This allows all of us to be exposed to new technology, new ways to create models, new ways of thinking, and different approaches to problem solving.”
Gary Ye, currently a PhD student at Johns Hopkins University, said he was prepared for graduate school by working as an NPRE undergraduate with Uddin. “Professor Uddin was not only treating me as a student research assistant, but also nurturing me as an individual and helping me develop professional expertise that was needed for graduate studies in the science and engineering field. I was extremely fortunate to encounter such a mentor.”