Adrien Treuille creates simulations of physical processes ranging from the flow of people in a crowd to the motion of proteins in a cell. And while his models are stunningly realistic, what’s truly amazing is that they run not on supercomputers but on ordinary PCs. “I want to place curling smoke in the palm of your hand,” he says.
To make this possible, Treuille, an assistant professor of computer science, streamlines the mathematical representation of a scenario, removing unlikely outcomes. For example, he says, a full simulation of how a shirt might be folded would include fantastic origami-style shapes. In most cases, a simulation would need to cover only ordinary creases.
Treuille’s simulations have attracted commercial interest. For example, ESPN used his techniques to simulate the airflow around NASCAR vehicles on live TV. And Electronic Arts has licensed his crowd-simulation techniques for its games, where they’re replacing more processing-intensive artificial-intelligence methods.
But Treuille’s work has applications beyond entertainment. He and colleague Seth Cooper designed a downloadable game called Foldit that allows players to fold and tug on simulations of known proteins to design new molecules. More than 90,000 users have registered and played since the game’s launch in May 2008. Treuille wonders if someone–perhaps even an amateur–might someday use Foldit to discover a protein that cures cancer.–Erica Naone
Mini model: Adrien Treuille creates realistic simulations that can run in close to real time on ordinary PCs. His simulations of airflow (above) have been adapted for use on live TV.
Courtesy of Adrien Treuille