CAST is almost entirely supported by competitive grants. Our researchers continuously look for new collaborations - both within the U of A and at other institutions - that will extend the application of spatial techniques and technologies to new areas of research. This unique perspective places CAST on the horizon of new technology and application development in many fields of study including the following established and emerging fields.
MicroCT Imaging and Analysis
Micro-computed tomography (microCT) has become an important tool for non-destructively measuring and analyzing the internal and external structure of objects. Researchers here at CAST have imaged a wide variety of samples and specimens for researchers providing high-resolution, 3D visualizations of anatomical systems enhancing functional research in biological, biomedical, paleontological, and geological sciences; quantification and visualization of objects representing cultural innovations through time and detailed microstructural investigations of brain tissue that inform our understanding of human behavior and cognitive function; analysis of additive manufacturing techniques, mechanical and biomedical engineering approaches for bone, soft-tissue structures, and bio-inspired materials, as well as nano-scale chemistry and biochemistry advances that will drive 21st-century technologies and innovations.
Spatial Archaeometry is the application of a wide variety of techniques to observe and measure the location and shape/form of archaeological materials at all scales – from deciphering the microtopography of entire landscapes with LiDAR, to discovering floor plans of ancient houses using archaeo-geophysics, to measuring the form and shape of ceramic vessels with structured light scanners. A range of new technologies now enable measurement of this evidence from the past with better resolution and more precision than ever before. Advances in Spatial Archaeometry represent fundamental improvements in our ability to study archaeological and heritage materials, and ability to create and engage with the archaeological record. CAST researches are involved in spatial archaeometry projects around the globe.
Powerful computational tools allow the creation of virtual representations of past and future buildings, landscapes and objects and, through augmented reality, to merge these representations into physical environments. CAST projects range from the complete recreation of the lost 1940s Japanese internment camp of Rohwer, and the early 1820s town of Old Davidsonville, to the Roman city of Gabii and the Native American rock art of Petit Jean Mountain State Park. Other projects involve the creation of possible alternative future conditions in realistic 3D, for example creating photorealistic and dynamic representations of planned offshore wind farms. These creations and reconstructions provide powerful tools to allow the public to explore an otherwise hidden or difficult to access past and future while providing scholars tools to explore different interpretations about the lives of the inhabitants or decision makers to assess the visual impacts of proposed construction.
Our ability to map the world has changed dramatically in the last decade. We find ourselves moving from the now ubiquitous two-dimensional maps of our natural and built environment to the significantly more complicated and useful three-dimensional representations of the space around us. Geomatics professionals at CAST are working to better understand how the various forms of what is coming to be known as reality capture can be applied to improve our ability to understand and navigate the world. Using a variety of techniques – from modern digital photogrammetry and structure-from-motion to advanced laser-based high definition survey – CAST researchers have traveled the world reconstructing the past, looking behind walls, and developing new methods to manage the petabytes of data that capture our 3d world.
While geoinformatics is most concerned with patterns that emerge in time and space, there are many relationships that influence or are influenced by other connections. Social or pseudo-social networks can be integrated with traditional spatial and temporal analysis to model complex, temporally and spatially influenced relationships. CAST is involved in several research projects - from uncovering patterns in domestic terrorism to revealing the influence of geography on corporate board makeup - in which this expanded approach to network analysis plays a key role.
GIS, GNSS and Mapping
GIS (or Geographic Information Systems) have become fundamental tools in an large and growing range of professions and academic fields of study – from anthropology to zoology. GIS has become essential in the planning of urban projects, assessing the environmental impact of current and planned activities such as the location of gas and oil facilities, investigating the economic implications of different locations for businesses, studying the locations of archaeological sites, determining best practices for wetland management and many others. GNSS (or Global Satellite Navigation Systems) utilize space based system to provide real-time precise locations data to activities such as vehicle navigation, property boundary and construction survey, analysis of tectonic movement and control for UAVs - and are a key data source for GIS. Maps produced by these systems are an essential communications vehicle to present the results of GIS and GNSS work to decision makers, scholars and the public.
As technology evolves and becomes ever more integrated in our lives, the theory and practice of teaching must also evolve to prepare students to use it effectively. Today, technology education starts in elementary school, builds throughout secondary schools, and forms a keystone of higher education. Since 1997, CAST has developed and used innovative project-based learning approaches with thousands of K-12 students participating in the EAST Initiative's programs. As these students feed into the University, they demand more than the status quo - a demand we are meeting through a coordinated series of online "flipped" courses and certificate programs through the UA Global Campus, as well as practical field schools and targeted professional education opportunities. CAST is dedicated to continual self-assessment and innovation in the pedagogy of technology.
With more and more geospatial and other data “born digital” (that is acquired or created via computing methods) the long term preservation and re-use of these data are of critical importance. Effective digital preservation requires development of strategies to acquire and structure “meta-data” – or data about the data – that provides future user with key details on how the data were acquired and their characteristics. Computational tools and structures to facilitate the search and discover of the data are essential to allow others to “find” the data. Robust and enduring institutional systems and hardware and software are needed to insure that the data remain available in the future.
The revolution in digital imaging has changed the way we view and record the world. Imaging sensors are everywhere, recording images in spectral regions beyond human vision, providing a nearly continuous view of the world. Improving our ability to automatically and autonomously extract information from this astonishing volume of satellite, aerial, terrestrial image streams will affect almost all areas of research; from environmental monitoring and analysis, to 2D and 3D mapping at microscopic to global scales. CAST researchers apply a wide range of image analyses - from fundamental image reconstruction to deep learning convolutional neural networks - to help answer important questions in plant stress monitoring, land-use and land-cover change, urban climate management and archaeological prospecting.