Western Mail Profiles: Dr Ian Grimstead, Cardiff University

‘Switched on to the health opportunities presented by computer science’

Dr Ian Grimstead is a senior research fellow at Cardiff University’s School of Computer Science and Informatics.

Ever since I was introduced to computers at school, I was fascinated at how the computer could draw pictures digitally.

Being a mediocre artist, I could see a way of making images that I couldn’t physically draw. After working for a number of years in the computer games and graphics industry, I was drawn back to research by the thought – how can computer science make a difference?

Computer science is often seen as complex programming or mathematics – anything produced can be obscured behind a system that is too difficult to use without training.

How can we provide something that is easy to use, which is accessible, yet enables people to do something beyond their current capabilities?

This mission has led me down several different paths, looking for ways of applying computer science while also investigating new techniques. An example of this is modelling arterial cells, which is outside my area of expertise, but was an opportunity to collaborate with experts at the Wales Heart Research Institute at the University Hospital of Wales, in Cardiff.

Working in close collaboration, we produced a system that can simulate tens of thousands of cells in under 10 hours; previously, this would have taken over a year to compute.

This was possible by using computer science techniques to make the original simulation run across Cardiff’s High Performance Computing cluster, which is the equivalent of having around 2,000 desktop PCs all plugged together.

My main research area is display systems, where I am currently investigating naturally-viewed 3D displays.

You may have been to the cinema to see a film in 3D where you had to wear slightly odd sunglasses. These are similar to Polaroid sunglasses, only the cinema lenses are arranged to filter out light polarised in different directions.

Two images are projected, one using horizontally-polarised light, and another vertically-polarised.

The special glasses filter the images, so only the horizontally polarised image reaches the left eye and the vertically-polarised image reaches the right eye.

With 3D cinema, you see a different image for each eye, producing a sense of depth.

Interestingly, this approach was patented in 1895 for use with magic lanterns (slide projectors) – it reminds us we have a lot to learn from early techniques, which can be reused with modern technology…

One of the problems of current 3D displays is the wearing of glasses – it isn’t easy to hold a meeting if everyone dons sunglasses; you lose eye contact, an important social cue.

My interest is in the area of glasses-free 3D, or “naturally viewed 3D”. There are a few approaches to this – ours involves rather a large number of projectors (64) behind a special screen.

The work is in automatically calibrating the system to show a sensible image, without having to manually maintain the system.

This has so far led on to a side project to calibrate cheap desktop monitors (say £200) to approach that of medical diagnostic monitors, as used in hospital radiology departments (costing more than £10,000) – but that, as they say, is another story.

To contact Ian email I.J.Grimstead@cs.cardiff.ac.uk.

This article first  appeared in the Western Mail‘s Health Wales supplement on the 30th January 2012, as part of the Welsh Crucible series of research profiles.