Computer science professor grabs Oscar gold

Ok, so he isn't Daniel Day-Lewis or Tilda Swinton but there are those who might argue that without the highly realistic roaring ocean waves crashing around Johnny Depp in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies or the splattering lava flows in the "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith," those movies would have flopped.

And that's why Ron Fedkiw, an associate professor of computer science at Stanford University won an Oscar at last night's Academy Awards for his groundbreaking work in liquid simulations. Fedkiw has conducted cutting-edge research into computational physics, a field that uses computers to simulate physical phenomena.

These complex models and simulations are highly valued because they allow researchers to observe theoretical events or to predict how objects might behave under certain conditions, according to a National Science Foundation release.

Fedkiw's models are so accurate, however, that they can also transport moviegoers into another world. "A lot of my work was on computational methods for fluids and solids for computational physics applications," Fedkiw said stated in the release. "It turns out to be quite useful for movies as well."

Fedkiw has worked on approximately 20 films, including some of the "Harry Potter" series, as well as "Terminator 3" and "Poseidon," two films he cites as among his best work, according to the release. For much of the past decade Fedkiw has been working in films while continuing his academic research.

His big break came in 1998 when he began working for a company that was producing 3-D water simulations using algorithms known as Navier-Stokes equations for a number of different customers, including Hollywood studios. He has also worked with Industrial Light and Magic, the legendary special effects company founded by George Lucas, creator of the "Star Wars" trilogies, the NSF said.Fedkiw is now working on simulating human motion, research that is supported by the NSF.

"My main focus these days has been on virtual humans and solid fluid coupling," he explained. "We'd like to do humans swimming, for example."

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