Driving virtual 
 reality

Abiodun Akinwuntan teaches students in Iceland.

Abiodun Akinwuntan is a virtual reality pioneer, but he didn’t need VR goggles to experience the northern lights, visit spectacular icebergs, or go whale-watching in the north Atlantic.

Akinwuntan, dean of the School of Health Professions, was in Iceland last fall as a Fulbright Specialist, part of a program that matches former Fulbright Scholars with institutions around the world in search of their particular expertise.

Though he made time for some typical tourist experiences, he was there to share his world-class driving simulation technology and rehabilitation techniques with academic and medical colleagues in Iceland. He taught neuropsychology classes at the University of Akureyri and demonstrated his rehabilitation techniques at several hospitals.

One program uses computer simulations to improve the driving performance of patients with neurological problems.

The rehab patient sits in a car outfitted with screens on the right, front, and left sides to create a moving 3-D video simulation.

KU was ranked fourth among U.S. universities in number of Fulbright Scholars in 2015-16.

Six faculty and administrators won awards.

Simulators help rehab patients relearn driving skills.

Working the foot pedals and steering wheel, the driver overtakes other cars, stops at traffic lights, and makes left turns against oncoming traffic. The driver experiences rainy, foggy, and snowy conditions, and even mountain roads.

Akinwuntan also brought back some new ideas.

“Now I have a broader experience to share with my students and colleagues,” he says, “especially on how to improvise in the absence of state-of-the-art equipment to still give the highest quality of care.”

Akinwuntan is developing joint courses in neuropsychology and occupational therapy at the KU Medical Center and Iceland’s three main universities. The program would include student exchanges and possibly allow some KU students to get their clinical experience — and do some whale-watching — in Iceland.


   

Medical Center milestones

The national designation for the KU Alzheimer’s Disease Center has been renewed for five years.

The KU Multiple Sclerosis Achievement Center, which opened in April, is one of only eight U.S. programs that provide integrated services for MS patients.

Water management

KU researchers are part of a $4 million NSF grant to seek environmentally responsible ways to manage 20 billion barrels a year of “produced water,” a by-product of domestic oil and gas recovery.

Bullying prevention

New research shows that cognitive empathy declines in students moving into middle school. The findings, from Anne Williford, associate professor of social welfare, indicate that helping fourth- and fifth-graders develop better social skills may prevent bullying later.

Communication interface

Using a brain-computer interface, people with profound speech and motor disorders may be able to directly control assistive communication devices with their brains. Jonathan Brumberg, assistant professor of speech-language-hearing, has received a $25,000 research grant to develop and test a BCI.

Nursing education

Nursing students at five Kansas community colleges can now stay in their own communities while working on bachelor’s degrees from KU through online courses.

The School of Nursing program may help the state meet the growing demand for nurses.