Take a stroll through the human body in the Virtual Reality Center at the South Jersey Technology Park

-Staff Photo/Cole Ditzel

Ever taken a walk through the inside of a human lung?

If you take a trip to the Virtual Reality Center inside the South Jersey Technology Park at Rowan University on Route 322, you can! The Virtual Reality Center and its staff can put anyone inside the human body without even touching a scalpel.

Inside the center’s lab, you can take a trip through Philadelphia’s immense crowd during the papal visit or find the best evacuation route during a simulated hurricane. Maybe you’re daring and want to wander aimlessly through a blood-splattered, zombie infested hallway with nothing but your virtual fists to fight them off. At the Virtual Reality Center, almost nothing is impossible!

The center at Rowan University and its 7-foot-high by 40-foot-wide wall of screens can put an individual in the middle of any world they can imagine.

Currently, the staff at the center is working on a helicopter simulation project for the Federal Aviation Administration. For this project, they are visualizing the interior of helicopters virtually and trying out different gauges before the FAA actually takes them to the sky.

They are also working on a game for Bane Haunted House and Escape Rooms in Livingston, N.J. The staff of the Virtual Reality Center is actually creating a virtual escape room that participants at the Bane Haunted House in North Jersey can try out. They are working on creating a multiplayer version where you and three of your friends can walk around the same game taking down virtual bad guys.

The crew at the VR center is involved and researching almost any aspect and field you can think of. Along with several other areas, they are currently getting involved in marketing projects as well.

“We’re creating visualizations of what a store’s setup will look like in the future,” said George LeCakes, director of the Virtual Reality Center at Rowan University. “If you’re at Lowe’s or Home Depot or Kohls, we can create the hallways and shelves and set them up beforehand so that when the business person puts the goggles on and walks through, they will know what a shelving unit will look like without ever having to set it up.”

“The VR Center has been here for a little over five years, however the VR lab which was an extension of electrical and computer engineering, has been here for over well over a decade and was run by the vice president of research who was a faculty member here,” LeCakes said. “It became successful enough to spawn off and become its own thing. Right now it’s under innovations here at Rowan University as one of the first for-profit groups that we are trying to have exist on their own.”

Rowan’s Virtual Reality Center has received sponsorship and donations from several reputable and prestigious organizations such as the Naval Sea Systems Command, NASA, Coopers Ferry Partnership, AT&T, Elekta, Army Research Lab and Naval Air Systems Command. Donations from these organizations included equipment, as well as monetary donations.

Zachary Norris, a physics major and electrical and computer engineering graduate student, can show you the CT scan of a professor of the Cooper Medical School and actually cut him in half, while you take a tour through his lungs, spine and trachea by simply wearing a pair of goggles.

“Within a minute, a surgeon can bring us their scan of a patient and we can pull everything up with this Xbox 360 controller and look at everything going on in their body,” Norris said.

With other VR equipment like the HTC Vive, electrical and computer engineering masters student Anthony Fasolo can put you right in the middle of a virtual creepy world.

“We create user experiences that replaces everything you see with a world that we create,” Fasolo said. “We can put you outside, we can put you inside, we can make you fly, we can make you stuck to the ground. Anything you can think of.”

The center is only a small portion of all that sits inside the South Jersey Technology Park. Inside this building, 15 prime companies reside. These companies have either been developed by Rowan’s own faculty or by individuals that have come to the technology park to work with faculty to create these companies.

Vice President of Research for Rowan’s five campuses and medical school Shreekanth Mandayam, or “Shreek” as he goes by, started his 21 years at Rowan as a professor of electrical and computer engineering. He now holds a dual role as the Executive Director of the South Jersey Technology Park and Vice President of Research.

“The tech park takes the technology and the intellectual minds of our faculty and students, and converts that into businesses. It creates jobs,” Mandayam said.

In seven years, the tech park has seen an increase of $28.4 million in annual growth across all research metrics.

“We have become what’s called a Carnegie classified research university,” Mandayam said. “The nation has recognized us. We are within a couple of hours of major research universities like University of Pennsylvania, Drexel, Rutgers, University of Delaware, but we nationally compete with them and have success in getting funding from the National Institute of Health, NASA, Federal Aviation Administration, NSF and more.”

Inside the technology park, there is a U.S. Army funded lab run by Dr. Joseph Stanzione, an engineering professor who takes wood and converts it to plastic in a sustainable way. Lockheed Martin rents a space at the center and teaches students system engineering. They also have a pavements lab at the technology park. The pavements are tested on the technology park’s campus in a huge hangar-like structure. Dr. Mark Byrne is the co-founder of OccuMedic, a system of medicated contact lenses. For example, if you have diabetes, these contacts will administer your insulin to you.

“We want to create knowledge and invent new things,” Mandayam said. “They do that working with students both undergraduate and graduate students, and even sometimes high school students.”

Outside companies that make up the residencies at the tech park include Inspira Innovation Center, AccuHealth, SalonClouds and Hill 17 Solutions. Rowan spin-out companies at the tech park include Regel Technologies, Focal Cool, Guava Medicine and Sentrimed.

“When research occurs and something is created, it’s not enough for it to just remain in a research lab,” Mandayam said. “It has to reach the consumers. It has to reach the patients through our medical faculty. We take care of all of that. We take care of the administrative burden of the faculty. so that we can take care of all the financial operations, all the compliance operations, so that the faculty are free to be intellectual and to discover and invent.

“My goal is to support the students and the faculty so that they can not just do research and create knowledge, but I want them to create jobs. I want them to contribute to the economy. If just the university becomes wealthy and our surrounding community does not, then we have failed in our mission. Our mission is to serve the citizens of southern New Jersey, and the state. That’s the job.”

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