Adding CLASS to U of I’s New Research Building
College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences faculty perform leading research in the Integrated Research and Innovation Center
The Integrated Research and Innovation Center (IRIC) opens its doors to a new chapter of research at the University of Idaho and in the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS). The new building, located in the heart of campus, is a collaborative space bringing scholars together to take interdisciplinary research to new heights.
The interdisciplinary nature of their fields of study make IRIC a perfect fit for many of CLASS’s researchers. From virtual environments to the analysis of physical items recovered during archaeological digs in Boise, CLASS faculty members are among the first tenants in IRIC, conducting research with real-world applications in a variety of fields.
Two faculty members from the Department of Psychology and Communication Studies are using the new physical space to advance their research in virtual reality.
Benjamin Barton, associate professor of psychology, is working collaboratively with Roger Lew in the College of Art and Architecture to build a virtual reality simulator for studying pedestrian behavior.
“Adults cross streets often, and we think of it as an easy, everyday task,” Barton said. “But when a mistake is made, injury can be severe or even deadly. A lot can be learned when we take this simple, everyday task and really break it down.”
Barton’s early research included helping with the development of the Nissan Leaf, the nation’s most popular electric car. His current study focuses on understanding the psychological processes related to risk behavior around streets, including cellphone use among pedestrians and the visual and auditory cues that people use in busy traffic environments.
Being located in the IRIC building gives Barton the needed space to build a simulator.
“My lab space in Forney Hall was too small to contain the system,” he said. “The IRIC building affords room and state-of-the-art accommodations for research. The space has everything we need to get our system finished and begin collecting data.”
For Russell Jackson, associate professor of psychology, the larger space afforded in the IRIC building will actually allow him to take his research outside of the confines of the laboratory.
“I conduct research in virtual reality, but the space that I currently use has only immobile equipment mounted to the walls,” Jackson said. “I needed a space to construct a mobile unit that I can take to potential collaborators, donors and conferences. The IRIC space is ideal for this opportunity. I can now develop a mobile unit for virtual reality applications of my research.”
Jackson’s research revolves around the causes of falls in the workplace and home.
“Falls comprise one of the primary causes of accidental death and injury worldwide,” Jackson said. “I hope to translate these findings for a collaboration with the Avista Corporation.”
Meanwhile, Mark Warner, department chair and professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, is using his new space in a more physical sense. Warner, one of the region’s top historical archaeologists, is working with the College of Science in conducting anthropological, historical and chemical analyses on materials recovered from several Idaho excavations.
“Items found in our recent excavations are pieces of our local, collective history,” Warner said. “By examining the artifacts from these digs, we are able to learn more about Boise’s history and the history of our community.”
Barton, Jackson and Warner will each have students – a total of sixteen graduate and undergraduate – working on their research projects.
“My team and I enjoy using both our lab space and the meeting spaces around the building,” Barton said. “It is a pleasant place to work, easy to access and just great for getting things done.”
The College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences is also involved in other collaborative projects in IRIC, including the Center for Modeling Complex Interactions, Polymorphic Game Studio and the Water Resources IGERT (Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship).
“The space in the IRIC is peerless,” Jackson said. “It allows collaboration with other researchers, space for my own new research direction and an open space in which I can demonstrate this technology to donors and collaborators.”
Written by Kathy Foss, College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences