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USF’s 3-D Digital Cultural Heritage Preservation Efforts Expanded by $4.6 Million Grant for New Center

USF aims to be further established as a global leader in the field.

TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 03, 2016) The University of South Florida’s Alliance for Integrated Spatial Technologies (AIST) has announced an expansion, now becoming the Center for Virtualization and Applied Spatial Technologies (CVAST), thanks to a $4.6 million grant from the Hitz Foundation and support from the College of Arts and Sciences at USF. Furthering its impact, Herb Maschner, PhD, has been recruited from Idaho State University, to be CVAST’s executive director, and the subsequent announcement of multiple ambitious new CVAST projects to preserve the world’s cultural heritage and also to help integrate a number of USF digital initiatives.

“The College of Arts and Sciences is extremely grateful to The Hitz Foundation for their support,” says Eric Eisenberg, PhD, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences who introduced both Hitz and Maschner to the gathering of faculty, students, staff and friends of USF at a Jan. 14 reception.

Maschner, noted as one of world’s authorities on digital heritage, digital humanities, and expanding educational opportunities and interdisciplinary research on a global scale, comes to USF after having served as the director of the Idaho Museum of Natural History, division head of anthropology at the Idaho Museum of Natural History, and founding director of the Center for Archaeology, Materials, and Applied Spectroscopy. His research interests are in virtualization, visualization, informatics, 3D scanning, and public science, digital heritage, digital humanities, museum and research informatics, and digital natural history at regional and global scales.

“CVAST brings a suite of new projects to USF, including a project mapping fortifications in La Mancha, Spain, mapping the Medieval catacombs beneath the city of Syracuse, Sicily, creating a 3D database of important archeological collections, and scanning important paleontological materials in the natural history museums of Paris and Berlin,” says Maschner. “Thanks to Ken Hitz, these projects will be supported by new faculty and staff hires in a number of different disciplines.”

Hitz, a computer systems architect, winemaker and philanthropist, is currently serving on the boards of the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Chamber Music San Francisco, and the Hitz Foundation. Hitz has worked for several years with Maschner on a variety of cultural heritage and anthropological projects.

“We love bringing together motivated and smart people and we wanted to expand their work massively to create a world class center,” says Hitz. “What AIST has been doing really spoke to us, and now CVAST will allow USF to become a global leader in digital heritage preservation. USF is a great host for this and we look forward to many years of discovery and wonder.”

AIST was established at USF almost a decade ago by Lori Collins, PhD and Travis Doering, PhD to protect and preserve the world’s cultural and natural heritage using laser scanning, 3-D technology. Employing the latest scanning technology, their recent North American projects have included preserving Native American petroglyphs in Hawaii, scanning and mapping sites at Cape Canaveral, Fla., and using 3D laser scanning at a Revolutionary War-era fort in South Carolina. They have also worked extensively in Central America and in Europe.

“Lori and Travis have worked tirelessly to document fragile, vanishing cultural heritage around the world,” says Eisenberg. “Two years ago, they made a proposal to expand and recruit Herb Maschner from Idaho State University, where he was on the same path.”

By accelerating and expanding USF’s effort in 3D scanning to enable the preservation of the world’s cultural heritage, CVAST also puts USF “on the map” in terms of being among the world’s leaders in digital documentation of disappearing cultural heritage, adds Hitz.

“This award, when combined with the wonderful research and education resources already available at USF, will transform the digital humanities and digital sciences by creating one of the world's premier centers for virtualization, 3D scanning, augmented reality, and immersive digital education.” says Maschner, who will also serve as professor of anthropology and geosciences. “I’m happy to be here. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Working together, CVAST executive director Maschner and co-directors Collins and Doering will be able to create a new, highly-advanced world-class center with research and projects in areas of democratizing digital data, museum and educational digitization strategies, mixed reality, and virtual representation.

Maschner first became aware of the need for 3D scanning of archaeological finds when excavating an ancient village site on a remote Aleutian island. After unearthing half a million animal bones and finding there was no existing collection for comparison, he applied to the National Science Foundation for funding to use 3D scanning to create a “virtual zooarchaeology” comparative collection.

“The development of high-resolution 3D laser scanners has made a great impact,” Maschner recently wrote in a piece published on line by The Conversation (https://theconversation.com/preservationists-race-to-capture-cultural-monuments-with-3d-images-53536). “This equipment aims laser beams at surfaces, records the reflected light, and assembles a very sharp 3D image of the space. Combining all these, we now have the tool to digitally preserve our material cultural heritage, whether it is put at-risk from terror groups or ‘mother nature.’”

USF’s expanded 3D content-to-archive-to-analysis and 3D printing portfolio adds significant contributions for global heritage preservation and providing access for people around the world, explains Maschner, adding that the promise of the 21st century is all about the ability to “break down boundaries” and to “transform our ability to understand and invest in the world through digital technology,” he adds.

One emphasis will be on providing free access to data.

According to Maschner, it is through the ‘Democratization of Science’ project at the newly formed CVAST that students, scientists and the public will gain access to proprietary or distant museum collections and monuments, allowing for virtual preservation, investigation and discovery through digital technologies.

“CVAST expands current opportunities for USF students and will be closely integrated with the Library and the Advanced Visualization Center. Now, any student, scholar or interested individual has access to some of the world’s most important historical and archeological specimens, buildings and cities. By using this technology we can bring cultural heritage to everyone while helping to ensure its preservation,” promises an enthusiastic Maschner.

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