With a supercomputer connection 10,000 times faster than the typical home Internet connection and a bank of synchronized ultra-high-definition video screens that spans nearly 60-square-feet, the new digital resources laboratory unveiled Thursday at Clemson University is being called a first-of-its-kind "classroom of the future."
The Edgar A. Brown Digital Resources Laboratory at the R.M. Cooper Library offers professors, students and researchers a place to share ideas and enable as many as four remote audiences at a time to collaborate via video conferencing, according to Galen Collier, computational scientist with the university's campus IT group.
Students will be able to interact with the Hiperwall video screen with their own digital devices.
The room has a 40 gigabyte-per-second connection to the Palmetto Cluster supercomputer network, Collier said. The network, based at Clemson, ranks No. 4 in the world among academic supercomputers, according to Top 500, a website that ranks supercomputer worldwide.
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"This room is a technology sandbox," Collier told reporters on a tour of the facility immediately before its grand opening.
The room, which takes up space where a small museum used to be near the library's main entrance, cost about $650,000, according to Kay Wall, dean of libraries. Much of the funding came through grants from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, Dell Computers and other external sources, she said.
The most eye-popping feature of the facility is a wall of 15, 46-inch high-definition video displays, with a resolution of 9600 x 3240.
To demonstrate its sharpness, project manager Tim Howard put up a photo of a castle, small at first. From a distance, there appear to be no human figures in the photo.
He enlarges it again and again until it takes up the entire wall, and the image remains just as sharp as it was. People can be seen clearly in the upper floors.
“You can even see in the windows where someone hasn't taken good care of their plants, and there are a few brown leaves,” he points out.
The other walls of the digital resource facility serve as screens for high-def projectors, onto which can be displayed the image of a classroom or videoconferencing facility anywhere in the world.
Not only will people at remote locations – across the country or across campus – be able to see and talk with the people in the digital resource lab, but they'll also be lined to whatever is being displayed on the Hiperwall.
Already Clemson professors have used the facility to collaborate on medical applications. It has also been used by computer science, architecture and even the English Department, officials said.