Meet ProtoMAX, the latest addition to the IQ Center!

The laser cutter in the IQ Center has the capability to cut materials like plastic and thin wood, but we haven’t had the ability to create parts from more durable materials, such as metal … until now!

The new ProtoMAX waterjet cutter in the IQ Center
Introducing the ProtoMAX waterjet cutting table!
See the waterjet cutter in action!

The addition of a new water jet cutter makes it possible to cut intricate parts from a variety of materials not previously possible.

The process is similar to that of the laser cutter. Parts are created in either CAD or vector drawing software like Illustrator. Those drawings are converted into paths that the high pressure water jet follows to cut your part.

The fine abrasives used in the process make a smooth, almost polished edge on the parts.

The IQ Center logo being cut from steel using the new ProtoMAX waterjet cutter

Stop into the IQ Center to take a look at some of the sample parts we have created. We’d love to talk about how you and your students can utilize ProtoMAX in your class.

The finished IQ Center logo cut from steel using the new ProtoMAX waterjet cutter

An aerial view to really put things in perspective!

In March, the IQ Center took to the skies to gather data for the Geology department.

Knowing that some students might not able to attend lab in person, Professor of Geology Chris Connors got some help from the IQ Center to create a photogrammetry model of the rocky outcroppings he was interested in, so students could view the formations from anywhere.

Photogrammetry can be a tricky process. Essentially, the goal is to visually identify common points between multiple photos, and using sophisticated software, stitch the photos together into a 3D model that lets us zoom, rotate, and examine areas of interest.

There’s a lot to consider when shooting for a photogrammetry project.

For one, the shoots can take several hours – enough time for the sun to travel a considerable distance in the sky, which changes light levels, shadow positions, and reflections. This means a cloudy day is ideal, but it can be difficult to plan trips around weather.

Another consideration is how the pictures should be taken. Due to the scale and location of the subject, this project necessitated using the IQ Center’s drone.

This means an extra set of challenges: safe takeoff, flight, and landing, watching battery life, and the multitasking involved with both piloting and taking pictures is a lot to focus on.

The tradeoff is that previously inaccessible shots are now within reach!

View the final photogrammetry model.

Get a behind-the-scenes look at how the IQ Center operates their drone on their Instagram: @wluiqcenter 


Want to incorporate photogrammetry into your course? Contact Dave Pfaff at 540.458.8044, email dpfaff [at] wlu [dot] edu or stop by the IQ Center!

Inspiration from the IQ Center

Just because the IQ Center is located in the Science Building doesn’t mean it’s only mean for STEM projects.

One tool in particular has found remarkably broad use across many disciplines – the laser cutter.

The following recent projects highlight its uses in the area of print making.

sample woodblock with koi and text created in the IQ Center In traditional woodblock printing, artists create designs by removing wood from a block of wood with metal carving tools. The wood is then coated with ink and used to make a print. The laser cutter in the IQ Center can be used in place of the carving tools to remove wood more quickly and more precisely than traditional methods.

sample made from Leigh Ann Beavers’ printmaking class

This semester in Leigh Ann Beavers’ printmaking class, the IQ Center is collaborating on such a project. Students will create designs either digitally or by scanning paper drawings. The edited graphics will be laser engraved in the IQ Center and printed in the print studio using the same techniques as hand carved wood blocks. This process allows students to create a greater number of woodblocks with more detail than would normally be possible in a semester.

A similar technique is used to create rubber stamps which can be used for a number of practical and class-related projects.

white Japanese hachimaki with rubber stamped text in blue

Recently, Janet Ikeda, associate professor of Japanese, inquired about printing on fabric. She was interested in creating a custom Japanese headband called a hachimaki as part of a Lunar New Year video performance. Using the laser cutter, we created a rubber stamp that was able to print directly on fabric and the result looked fabulous.

Dancers wearing the hachimaki (custom headband) for a Lunar New Year video performance.

Regardless of your discipline, please contact Dave Pfaff with any creative technology needs.

Experiments in Virtual Reality at W&L’s IQ Center

by Paul Low and David Pfaff

The Integrative and Quantitative (IQ) Center at W&L is a collaborative space where new technologies are made available to the entire campus – often before we know exactly how those technologies will be used. A recent example of this is virtual reality (VR). At W&L we’ve been experimenting with the technology for a couple years, starting with cell phone-based VR systems (like Google Cardboard) but in the past year, the price and quality of VR hardware has reached a point that has attracted a much wider audience, including retail consumers and small schools like ours and this year we upgraded to a dedicated VR headset, called the HTC Vive. These new VR headsets provide a compelling (and immersive) way to visualize and interact with content but there is very little educational content currently available, especially for higher education. This means that, for the time being, getting the most out of these systems requires either creating original content or adapting existing material to work in VR. Fortunately, when it comes to visualization, many of the workflows that we have developed over the past few years for generating and manipulating 3D content such as molecular modeling, 3D animation, motion capture, photogrammetry, geographic information systems, 360-degree photography and video, etc. translate well to VR platforms with a little work and a healthy respect for the current limitations of the hardware. Developing interactive scenes for VR takes a little more work and some specialized skills but the potential for creating educational tools that facilitate active and blended learning at all levels of education are virtually limitless.

Since we are so new to VR, most of our projects can be generously described as “ongoing”; nevertheless, this summer we had our first team of student VR developers – a group of incoming first year students participating in the month-long W&L Advanced Research Cohort (ARC) program. Their project involved capturing motion of themselves performing various exercises (running, yoga, etc.) then visualizing and analyzing the movement in VR. This fall, we developed our first VR “homework assignment” with Jill Leonard-Pingel for her “General Geology” (100-level) class, and most recently worked with a couple of teams from Gregg Whitworth’s “Molecular Mechanics of Life” class to create interactive scenes that require “player” input to complete complex biochemical reactions in VR. Our ongoing projects include faculty and students in the many STEM fields as well as dance, digital humanities, and theater. The video below shows some of our ongoing projects in VR (most demonstrated by Ashley Ooms ’17), in addition to those mentioned above:

  • Examples of interactive structural biology models (catalyzed phosphorylation reaction)
  • Photogrammetry model of the Liberty Hall Ruins (on the W&L campus) and a laser scan model of a Wooley Mammoth downloaded from the Smithsonian both viewed at 1:1 scale
  • Viewing crystal structures in 3D (from the virtual homework assignment mentioned earlier)
  • Interactive scene developed for a group project in an upper-level biology class (Molecular Mechanics of Life)
  • A 1:1 scale version of downtown Lexington, VA in 1867 created in Sketch-Up by former VMI French Professor Ed Dooley
  • “Grabbable” MRI scans of the brain from the “Glass Brain” project
  • Motion capture animation from a dance class taught by Jenny Davies.