Chris Johnson: 2010-11 Miller Faculty Fellow

April 26, 2010

Chris Johnson has been named a 2010-2011 Miller Faculty Fellow for his proposal, Modeling Reality: Bringing Market Relevance to an Undergraduate Curriculum in Interactive 3-D Gaming and Computer Graphics. The proposal developed out of educational needs Johnson identified while preparing a new course in computer graphics (Computer Science 336X) to be offered for the first time in fall 2010. The fellowship will provide resources to bring established game developers to campus to share industrial perspectives and to acquire licenses for software used in the production of mainstream graphics applications. "This is a brand new course," says Johnson, "and it's important that students get from it the skills that will give them a competitive edge in the job market." 

A primary application of computer graphics is game development, but modern science is also becoming increasingly dependent on the interactive and visual display of data. Says Johnson, "I see computer graphics as the ideal way to deliver computational discoveries to the general public. Numbers are important, but models produce numbers in bulk -- and it is hard to make sense of all of them. Our visual cortex is already a master at making decisions and has been for thousands of years, so why not use it to help us make sense of our scientific and social problems?" 

Computer graphics is one of the more visible subdisciplines of computer science that has the potential to change the way outsiders view the field. Johnson states, "A common stereotype portrays the computer scientist in a dark room, living a life of seclusion. The study of computer graphics, on the other hand, brings computer scientists back into the natural world around them. It is impossible to ignore shadows and reflections in the real world after you've tried to model them in a virtual one." 

The Miller Faculty Development Fund was made possible by the generosity of F. Wendell Miller, who left his entire estate jointly to Iowa State University and the University of Iowa. Mr. Miller, who died in 1995 at age 97, was born in Altoona, Illinois, grew up in Rockwell City, Iowa, graduated from Grinnell College and Harvard Law School, and practiced law in Des Moines and Chicago before returning to Rockwell City to manage his family's farm holdings and to practice law. His bequest helped to establish the F. Wendell Miller Trust, the annual earnings of which, in part, help support faculty development proposals that advance the university's strategic plan. The program is administered by the President's Office and the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching.