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Earth and computer sciences collaboration a success

3 April 2014

Gemma Johnson and Anthony Barr-Smith

Collaboration success: University Waikato Earth Sciences student Gemma Johnson and Computer Science student Anthony Barr-Smith.

When Earth Sciences student Gemma Johnson embarked on a University of Waikato Summer Research Scholarship, she didn’t expect to come out of the experience with her first research collaboration under her belt.

Under the supervision of Dr Shaun Barker, Gemma worked with Waikato University Computer Science student Anthony Barr-Smith to create software that optimises the manufacture of terrain models created by a 3D printer.

3D printing

Before 3D printing, models were commonly made from wood and were costly and time consuming to build.

 “My project involved researching how to use the 3D printer to create different methods of displaying Earth sciences related information, such as topography surfaces through contour data, geological fault and fold models, geological maps and so forth, for 3D printing in first-year labs,” says Gemma.

Collaboration the key

Due to the lack of appropriate existing software, Gemma and Anthony collaborated to develop software, later dubbed '3DTM' (3D Terrain Maker) which models elevation data from any area around the world and converts it into a 3D model format which can be then printed.

“The software I developed with Gemma was similar to something I was developing in my spare time for game creation, using real data pulled from the cloud. The software basically automated a repetitive process that before now was being done by hand,” says Anthony.

“Challenges like this interest me so I created a model generating program that lets you select coordinates and creates a model to your selected detail level. This means anyone could now generate a model, even if they have no experience in modelling software.”

Preparation for further research

“This scholarship experience was hugely beneficial as I learnt so much about the ups and downs of research, which I’m sure will be great preparation for next year when I start the research component of my masters,” says Gemma.

Gemma, a former Waiuku College student, completed a Bachelor of Science (BSc) majoring in Earth Sciences, with supporting papers in Materials and Processing, and began a Master of Science (Research) this year. She originally chose to study at the University of Waikato due to the “flexibility of the BSc degree, the beautiful campus and top-notch facilities”.

A former Tauranga Boys’ College student, Anthony has a few papers left before he completes a Bachelor of Science (Technology) majoring in Computer Science. He is currently taking a year out to work for ISO at the Port of Tauranga, in a position that he describes as “almost the perfect job” for him. Here he is working on automating processes and providing data applications for reporting and logging.


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