Fair will feature U’s PowerWall

Michelle Kibiger

Walls at the Minnesota State Fair are typically used to display things like arts and crafts. But, some University Institute of Technology students and staff members have created a wall that is an exhibit in itself.
The institute’s PowerWall video display will be featured in the fair’s Progress Center as part of the 1996 Wonders of Technology exhibit.
The PowerWall has a 6-by-8-foot screen that lets researchers and programmers see their data illustrated through a clear, fast system. Usually, the wall uses four projectors to illuminate the screen from behind. For the fair, the exhibit will use one projector because it is difficult to transport the equipment.
“It’ll look really cool,” said Thoma Ruwart, assistant director in the astronomy department. He is one of 11 students and staff members working on the project.
The wall gives far more detail and precision to simulations researchers use to see if their theories match their calculations. In order for more people to observe and learn from the simulation, it needs to be projected on a large screen with a high resolution.
“It’s basically a digital blackboard,” Ruwart said. “It can display 25 times more information than a normal television set.”
He said the screen is also 25 times clearer than a television.
Ruwart said the size of the screen is important for educational purposes. “We like the idea of having a display that a lot of people can gather around and work,” he said.
Not only does the system provide optimal viewing area, but it also has much more capacity to store data and retrieve it quickly.
Linda Bruemmer, associate to Institute of Technology Dean Willard Miller, said many scientists are not able to picture their work and the PowerWall allows them to do so.
Ruwart said many people may not understand the science behind the wall, but they will be able to see some amazing colors and graphics on the screen. He also said other applications are being developed across the country that people will find more compelling in the future.
Currently there are three PowerWall-type structures in the country and many more are being developed. “It’s something that has captured the interest of computational scientists around the country,” Ruwart said.
The fact that the University has played a major role in the wall’s development is good for the school’s public relations, as is its involvement in the fair, he said.
“It’s a great commercial for the University of Minnesota,” Ruwart said.
Bruemmer said the event is possible because of the University’s good relationship with the Minnesota High Technology Council, a group that advocates technological advances in public policy.
Ruwart said the event will give University programs attention, when they might not normally receive the spotlight.
“I’m really excited to be in the high technology pavilion,” Bruemmer said, “because it’s a presence for the University where we might not normally be.”
Bobby Wangaard of the technology council, said she welcomes participation by the University because it is “such an important economic engine to the state and research.”
University students who designed the Aurora II solar-powered car were also trying to find a place at the fair for their invention, but its arrangements fell through. Laurie Miller, an Institute of Technology senior, said some students are trying to get the car into one of the fair’s daily afternoon parades.