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A Vision for Collaborative, Multi-Disciplinary M&S Research is the Mission for New VMASC Chief Scientist Yiannis Papelis

The new Chief Scientist at Old Dominion University's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC) says the center is poised to be one of the nation's leading incubators of cutting-edge multidisciplinary research in the next few years.

Yiannis Papelis, who came to ODU as a research associate professor in August 2007 from the University of Central Florida, and whose wife, Ginger Watson, is an associate professor in ODU's Darden College of Education, feels like the couple arrived in Virginia at the perfect time.

"We feel very blessed to be here, both having an opportunity to join a program that maximizes our capabilities. As all the growth is happening, it's reaffirming that this was a good decision for us," Papelis said.

Among the developments are the creation of an undergraduate program in modeling, simulation and visualization engineering (MSVE) in the Batten College of Engineering and Technology, along with a continued emphasis on multidisciplinary M&S, exploring areas other than the traditional applications like flight simulators and video games.

"Modeling and simulation, even if you look at it on a technical basis, is inherently an interdisciplinary science," he said. "Typically the modeling and simulation area looks at the science of modeling. But the subject matter can spread across the world. So we can model anything from earthquakes, floods, human unrest, mechanical systems, software systems, human behavior, anything like that."

Since arriving at ODU, Papelis has spearheaded the applied research area of virtual environments. He has conducted M&S research focused on agent-based simulation, immersive environments and critical infrastructure dependency modeling. As well, Papelis teaches modeling and simulation courses and has mentored students at the master's and doctoral levels.

VMASC is unique among university modeling and simulation centers in that it can offer multidisciplinary collaborations among many departments and colleges.

"One of the things you will see if you look through the directory at VMASC, is that it's already a small microcosm of interdisciplinary work. You look across our affiliates, and I think we have collaborations with every college at ODU." Watson from the education college has been one of those collaborators.

Papelis added that M&S is, by its nature, collaborative. "M&S is almost like mathematics. Mathematics is used in every discipline, but there are still people whose job it is to study math. M&S is very similar that way. Our science is the core of the M&S that's used in many different disciplines."

Doing modeling and simulation work for a variety of different applications is also helpful at a time when the future of military subcontract work is uncertain, because of the looming closure of U.S. Joint Forces Command. JFCOM has been the prime user of VMASC services.

Papelis said Executive Director John Sokolowski, and the former director, Mike McGinnis, recognized the value of ODU-VMASC's research capital, branching the center's expertise into research in a variety of areas, such as medical modeling and simulation.

The center has, in the past, had a heavy emphasis on so-called "work for hire" projects, rather than pure research and development, Papelis said. "VMASC recognized we were heavy on the applied side. As we started building up our intellectual property assets - more faculty, more Ph.D.s focusing on research - we realized that this approach was also more aligned with the mission of the university, thus the effort to shift the ratio between work-for-hire and research."

To that end, Papelis said the creation of the undergrad MSVE program is vitally important for ODU, positioning it as one of the few schools in the country that offer a complete M&S education, from undergraduate to post-doctoral.

"It establishes a pipeline from ODU to M&S jobs in the nation. And the way programs grow is by having your graduates diffuse into the world, and do good work. Word basically comes back that ODU is a place that does good work," Papelis said.

"I honestly believe that five or 10 years from now, individuals having a degree in modeling and simulation from ODU are going to start appearing at very high places. It shows to me very clearly the importance of the vision of the university."

Before joining VMASC, Papelis spent a year as a visiting assistant professor at Central Florida, where he was involved in projects supporting Army flight simulator interoperability, and competed in the DARPA Urban Grand Challenge autonomous vehicle competition.

Prior to this, Papelis was the chief technical officer at the National Advanced Driving Simulator & Simulation Center and the Center for Computer Aided Design at the University of Iowa, where he conducted traffic safety research and worked extensively on agent-based modeling of traffic, virtual environment modeling, 3D visualization and operator-in-the-loop simulation.

In addition, Papelis led multiple research projects assessing the effectiveness of electronic stability control with the purpose of making ESC standard equipment in all future vehicles.

Papelis earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering (with honors) from Southern Illinois University in 1988, a master's in electrical engineering from Purdue University in 1989 and a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Iowa in 1993.

This article was posted on: August 23, 2010

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