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VIRGINIA LEADING THE WAY

Excerpted from Fortune Magazine, September 2006

...The education leader in the Hampton Roads M&S cluster -- and arguably in the country -- is Old Dominion University (ODU). The university is home to both the National Center for Collaboration in Medical Modeling and Simulation (a joint endeavor of Eastern Virginia Medical School and ODU) and the Virginia Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation Center (VMASC).

The National Center for Collaboration brings M&S to medicine. "Simulation of diseases has been done by actors at the medical school for years. But the actors generally aren't sick, and students can't see, touch, or hear the disease trying to be simulated," says Don Combs, Ph.D., the center's director and associate dean for planning and health professions at the medical school. With computer simulation through a partnership with VMASC, actors can now display symptoms that include heart and lung sounds, he says.

A second way the center is living up to its name is by creating a database -- mostly funded by a Department of Defense (DOD) contract -- of 230,000 research articles about M&S that scientists nationwide can use as a basis for collaborating and learning about the diversity of medical M&S. It will be the only one of its kind. The center also plans to create and R&D lab to test ideas from students, practitioners, and companies it would identify in order to improve patient care, says Combs. "Medical M&S is still kind of a cottage industry," he adds, "which means companies that want to come here would develop a competitive advantage they're not going to get anywhere else."

VMASC was launched in 1997 primarily as an R&D center in Suffolk to complement the military's Joint Training Analysis and Simulation Center. It now serves as an interface for academia, researchers, industry, and government, says VMASC business development director Mike Robinson. "M&S was first seen as a tool to be used by other disciplines, but in the last few years it's become a discipline in its own right," he says. "Old Dominion and VMASC have been the key to that transition.

Catherine Banks, assistant director for the M&S education program at VMASC, puts it this way: "M&S is branching off in so many different application areas that it will likely have an effect similar to the one computer science had 156 or 20 years ago. More than a tool, M&S is a method for doing research with data from other disciplines. For instance, M&S needs bioengineers for medical modeling. Research is currently being conducted in crowd modeling and mass-casualty modeling, and for that we need sociologists and psychologist to analyze group behavior."

VMASC offers master's degrees and Ph.D.s in M&S -- one of only two public institutions in the nation to do so -- and is also developing a bachelor's program. About one-third of the current 113 students are affiliated with the military, and that's one reason the center is in the Hampton Roads area. Its proximity to the U.S. Joint Forces Command (right across Interstate 664), with which it has three contracts, is intentional. The center has become a catalyst for businesses to expand in the area; a 32-acre M&S research park in which VMASC will take space next fall will continue to attract even more companies...

This article was posted on: November 1, 2006

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