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Vanderbilt engineer receives national award for computer animation research

Jun. 20, 2003, 12:03 PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. ó A Vanderbilt engineer has been recognized with one of the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards for his high-tech exploration of an old maxim — The best way to learn a subject is to teach it.

Robert E. Bodenheimer, assistant professor of computer science at Vanderbilt University, has received the NSF’s Faculty Early CAREER Development Award to develop a program that reinforces and tests what a student has just learned by requiring the student to teach an animated character.

The national award, given to selected junior faculty for exceptionally promising research, includes $425,000 over five years to assist recipients in getting established and making major contributions in their field.

Bodenheimer’s research involves developing animated characters called "teachable agents" to aid children in understanding and applying scientific and mathematical concepts. After children learn new scientific and mathematical concepts, they are asked to teach them to the animated agent. The character then attempts to apply what the student has taught it to solve some problems. If the character fails, the student delves further into the material, "teaches" the agent more facts and concepts and then puts the character through the challenge simulation again.

"People become active learners when they are teaching and instructing," Bodenheimer says. "Our job is to make the character as engaging and compelling as possible, to help motivate children of different ages to ‘teach’ the character to be successful in solving problems."

His research, described in the proposal titled "Implementing and Assessing Human Figure Animation for Pedagogical Agents," involves developing and assessing computer animation techniques that generate interactive movements and facial expressions that are lifelike. The project also will help teach Vanderbilt engineering students to better understand the mathematics of good animation.

Bodenheimer joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 2000, after a postdoctoral fellowship with the Animation Lab of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Tennessee and his doctoral degree from the California Institute of Technology.

NSF established the CAREER program in 1995 to help top-performing scientists and engineers early in their careers to enhance both their contributions and strengthen their commitment to research and education.

URLs: Bobby Bodenheimer’s home page http://www.vuse.vanderbilt.edu/~bobbyb/ Media contact: Vivian Cooper-Capps, (615) 783-1862 vivian.f.cooper-capps@vanderbilt.edu David F. Salisbury, (615) 343-6803 david.f.salisbury@vanderbilt.edu

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