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The Use of Computer Graphics in Biology

by Robert Blystone

I have been "furiously" trying out new teaching approaches in biology based on computer graphics. We are incorporating the software Electric Image into the microscopy labs and have encountered a host of difficulties. I am about to prepare a report "paper" that describes five years of classroom use of computer graphics in biology. In terms of spreading my experiences, most biologists would rather have my students' output rather than spending the time learning and teaching how do visualizations with the computer in a biology setting. The most kindred group with which I deal are the MRI reconstruction groups and they typically are only interested in medical diagnostics and not so much how to teach with computer graphics. So I still find myself out on a limb, in a manner of speaking, as a biological microscopist who uses computer graphics to teach biological microstructure. I told Scott (Owen, former Director for Education) several years that I would have problems being a "conventional" committee member. So I have no subcommittee nor do I see one on the immediate horizon.

My long term goals in terms of Computer Graphics are the following:

  1. Build a CD that explores the possibility of a virtual microscope;
  2. Building a flythrough animation that explores embryological and histological topics - a flythrough of the kidney and of a developing chick embyro heart for examples;
  3. And to use the principles of digital imaging and visualization to get at quantitative problems in biology education.

I am way behind on the first goal. We are working on the animations for the second goal as we speak with the hope of an unveiling at the 97 Siggraph. As for the third goal I am beginning a three year NSF grant this month to do just what is outlined in goal three. I will be supervising a team of students this summer working on new lab exercises using computer graphics and digital imaging to do quantitative biology and statistics.


Trinity University
715 Stadium Drive
San Antonio, TX, 78212
RBlyston [at] Trinity [dot]edu

Submitted 3 July 1996 by Robert V. Blystone