"Come Watson, the game's afoot." With that declaration Sherlock Holmes began the investigation of many of his greatest cases. For Dr. Paul Hemler, Associate Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at Hampden-Sydney College, a computer game can be a tool to investigate and teach many topics in the Computer Science curriculum.
Dr. Hemler holds his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Villanova University, M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Lehigh University , and a Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from North Carolina State University. He came to Hampden-Sydney from Wake Forest University where he was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science. He likes to understand the many different mechanisms incorporated in successful computer games.
Says Dr. Hemler, "I am interested in computer graphics and computer gaming and the science that goes into the many varieties of games. Computer games are a wonderful mechanism for teaching computer science students because games involve a variety of topics found throughout the curriculum. Games are incredibly long and complex programs and to successfully complete and to be able to maintain a game, proper programming and software engineering techniques must be utilized. Just the implementation of a game requires many worthwhile computer science concepts including streamlining and optimized coding techniques."
"In order for a game to be interesting to the person playing it, there needs to be detailed characters and life-like effects. Modeling characters and phenomenon is a very complex problem and rendering realistic models in real time remains an ongoing topic in computer graphics research. Realism is extremely important in games- for example, characters should not be able to walk through walls or other objects. Collision detection and path planning are very active areas of computer science research and are also directly applicable in the field of robotics."
"Physics is another very important component in computer games. When a character falls down, it should be convincingly realistic. Making a model deform as it would in nature, subject to the laws of physics is quite complex and requires many sophisticated mathematical techniques."
"When playing a game against the computer, the player wants the computer to act and react as a person would. How should the game behave in the various situations? Life-like actions and reactions require the use of various artificial intelligence techniques, which is also a hot topic in computer science research."
Computer science is a broad field and there are many niches that do not require a strong mathematical background, while others areas are very theoretical and require several upper level mathematic courses. "I find," says Dr. Hemler, "that there are generally two flavors of computer science students: those who embrace mathematics and really dig into it and those that want nothing to do with it. Most students, however, are into computer games and through gaming, if the students are not careful, they will learn some computer science, mathematics, and possibly physics."
Dr. Hemler has for many years been involved in research on medical image processing - taking both two- and three-dimensional medical images and extracting information to aid surgeons and radiologists in therapy and diagnosis. He has worked in collaboration with the National Institute of Health and plans to continue this research during the summer months.
As to what brought him to Hampden-Sydney, he says, "I love to interact with students, to watch motivated students throughout the semester as they struggle with some of the difficult concepts, and then, about mid-semester, watch their eyes light up when the concepts and how they fit together make sense. That's what excites me. I really enjoy being with students, teaching them, and guiding them as they learn to think their way through challenging problems and projects. Hampden-Sydney focuses on education and the one-on-one relationship between faculty and students. These goals of the College seem to fit well with my teaching philosophy and what, I believe, I do best."So gentlemen, the game's afoot.