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Undergrads triumph in Google contest

Undergraduates worked on this 3D rendering of the Dartmouth campus throughout the Spring term. As one of seven winning teams they will travel to the Google headquarters in California.

A team of 13 Dartmouth undergraduates became one of seven winning teams in Google's "Build Your Campus in 3D Competition" earning the students a trip to Google's headquarters in California, where they will interact with digital modeling professionals. The team members -- advised by Lorie Loeb, a professor in the computer science department -- worked on their project in Sudikoff Laboratory throughout Spring term and ultimately triumphed over 350 other applicants in the contest.

Loeb said she learned of the project through an e-mail from a Dartmouth alumnus who currently works for Google and began to contact students from a variety of different academic disciplines.

"[The e-mail] caught my attention and so I said, 'Ok I'll call a group, I'll do it,' and I sent e-mails out to some of the students in computer science, digital arts, and studio art departments," Loeb said. "I also sent it to the architecture program. So that's how it got going; that e-mail spurred it, and then I reached out to lots of programs."

She added that the project was a great opportunity for students involved with the College's recently created Digital Arts minor, as the entrants were required to use SketchUp -- a software program recently acquired by Google -- to digitize their campus.

"The digital arts minor is a new program and it is really exciting that this has happened," Loeb said. "The people who are the judges are really esteemed and every Ivy was in there, but we won. For a new program to be recognized by this group of industry professionals in this way is really such an honor and it speaks to what this means."

Loeb also noted that the Dartmouth team faced several obstacles from the beginning due to the number of buildings on campus, which amounts to over 130. Jessica Glago '08, who stepped up as the student leader of the group, said that the sheer scale of the project was the greatest challenge and proved overwhelming at times. Additionally, at other universities the contest was integrated into a course, while the students from Dartmouth contributed to the project in their spare time.

"There were just so many buildings and we really wanted to take our time on every building and make each one all that it could be but they weren't looking for these amazingly detailed buildings," she said. "We had to manage efficiency with getting really nice buildings, while still having a small file size."

Glago, a digital arts minor, took hundreds of pictures of campus buildings from various angles to make the process easier for the team. She then used Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to organize the students and their respective tasks and to calculate how many buildings they had to complete each week.

She added that when the team finally started on its first building assignments, there were only 40 days left before the deadline.

"It was definitely a time crunch," Jen Huang '09, a computer science major and digital arts minor who worked on the project, said. "We started Spring term and everyone else had been working on it since January. We had two months to model every single building on campus."

Huang added that the best part of the experience was by far the group dynamic and the artistic aspect.

"Definitely learning how to use [SketchUp] was useful, but it was also really fun," she said. "I did it to be part of something like that. It really has nothing to do with programming -- it's just more art than computer science."

Looking back on the experience, Glago said that what she learned extends far beyond the realm of computer science or digital art.

"I learned how to be the project manager," she said. "At first I really didn't know what I was doing but I think I learned how far I can push people and when to be motivational. We all learned a ton about the software and that was great but when it came down to really getting this project done, it was all about timing."

The project was co-sponsored by the Department of Computer Science and the Digital Arts Minor and received financial support from the College's William H. Neukom 1964 Institute for Computational Science and from Borealis Ventures.

The six other winners are Purdue University, Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, Concordia University, Indiana University--Purdue, University Fort Wayne, University of Minnesota and Stanford University.

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