Bridging Engineering and Art History

Xing SuName: Xing Su
Year: 2013
Double Major: Civil and Environmental Engineering and Economics
Research Focus: Visualizing Venice, an online research tool that integrates archived documents, architectural plans and three-dimensional technology, depicts the transformation over eight centuries of the city of Venice
Hometown: Baotou, China (Inner Mongolia)/ Dallas, TX

Can you tell us about your project?

Before I came to Duke, I knew about the DIVE (Duke Immersive Virtual Environment). It’s one of the ten systems in the world that is capable of doing completely immersive virtual reality. I knew I really wanted to be involved and it so happened that the Visualizing Venice project was looking for people with a technical background in order to add 3D elements to the website. Visualizing Venice was founded on the idea of ultimately creating a research tool for the general public to gain different levels of access on the city. For example, a 7th grader who is doing research on Venice will be able to go to this website and learn about the city from various pictures and timelines. It’s also meant to be a scholarly research tool with a database of primary documents collected through the archives of Venice.

What was most surprising or gratifying about your research?

In my previous research projects, I was never able to decide on my own. I would be given the project, instructions, and guidance every step of the way. In my current project, however, my professor, the architectural historians, and the Italian professors don’t have a lot of technical expertise, so they understand the limitations of the technology. They have grand ideas and I come up with ways to implement their ideas. In the process, I learned to innovate from scratch in order to make new ideas possible. In the end, I enjoy this dynamic a lot more than being given instruction for every step as it allows for a lot more freedom and exploration.

What would you say to a student who is considering a research project at Duke?

I think that any Duke experience would be incomplete without pursuing a research project. There are so many brilliant professors and amazing projects. To be involved in these, all you have to do is ask. You’ll have a mentor who is most likely world-renowned, and you’ll have firsthand experience in cutting-edge technologies. This experience can give you a sense of significance and impact you for the rest of your life.

What advice would you give for a successful research project?

In meetings with Italian art historians, our advisors had to remind us to slow down and keep it simple. I think pacing yourself is an important exercise that will force you to understand your project completely and to be able to reduce it to its simplest form. This skill is essential in any field, especially when you’re working in a group where people have different areas of expertise and interests or backgrounds.

What are your future plans?

I have so many different interests that I’m passionate about. What’s there to lose? There are all of these amazing opportunities here at Duke, so I want to take advantage of them all. I feel like everything I accomplish can affect everything else. I’m getting used to solving challenging problems, and that definitely benefits whatever I do in the future.