A computer scientist known worldwide for creating the CAVE system, a fully immersive virtual reality environment within a room-sized cube, has joined the faculty of the University of Central Florida.

Carolina Cruz-Neira, based in the UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science, is a pioneer in the areas of virtual reality and interactive visualization, having created and deployed a variety of technologies that have become standard tools in industry, government and academia.

Cruz-Neira is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, which is considered the highest professional distinction for engineers in the United States. UCF now has seven NAE members on its faculty.

Her CAVE system enables face-to-face discussions while immersing all users in the same shared physical and virtual space. It has been used by many industries such as car manufacturers to anticipate problems and plan accordingly before creating real world versions. Scientists also use the system to explore problems that are difficult to do so in the macro world.

She plans to bring that environment to UCF.

“In engineering, CAVEs are used to better analyze and understand ways to plan things such as factory floors, complex 3D constructions, flow visualization and simulation analysis,” Cruz-Neira says. “In sciences like biology, chemistry, astrophysics or mathematics they allow users to experience three-dimensional structures, concepts and data and exploration of worlds that are too small, too large, too hostile or just plain impossible in ways that support faster and more complete understanding.”

Cruz-Neira plans to build several CAVEs at UCF which would help students get hands-on experience with some of the latest technology being used in industry and could propel new ideas and research projects across multiple disciplines.

Recently, Cruz-Neira was named a fellow of the Institute for Electronics and Electrical Engineers. The IEEE distinction recognizes her significant scientific contributions that have advanced the field of virtual reality. IEEE is a professional association focused on advancing technology for humanity with 400,000+ members in 160 countries.

Throughout her career, Cruz-Neira has worked to expand opportunities for others, spearheading several open-source initiatives to disseminate and grow VR technologies, and leading entrepreneurial initiatives to commercialize research results.

A prolific researcher, Cruz-Neira has been awarded more than $75 million in grants, contracts, and donations, and has authored more than 100 scientific articles, book chapters, magazine editorials and other publications. She is also recognized for having founded and led highly successful virtual reality research centers, including the Virtual Reality Applications Center at Iowa State University, the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise and the Emerging Analytics Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Among her numerous national and international recognitions, Cruz-Neira is an Association of Computing Machinery Computer Pioneer. She is a recipient of the IEEE Virtual Reality Technical Achievement Award and the Distinguished Career Award from the International Digital Media & Arts Society. She has appeared as a subject expert on TV shows and podcasts and served as a keynote speaker at conferences and forums worldwide.

Cruz-Neira joined UCF along with her longstanding research team of 15 years – husband Dirk Reiners and research scientist Carsten Neumann – crediting UCF’s strong reputation in computer science.

“UCF is a nationally-recognized leader in computer science, modeling and simulation, and in virtual and augmented reality,” Cruz-Neira says. “What really attracted me is that UCF is a vibrant place that fosters innovation, partnerships and unique initiatives centered in student and faculty success. UCF has demonstrated that it can rapidly change and adapt to the needs of the region, that it can quickly expand to take advantage of new trends in technology, and that it can be a model for 21st century academic institutions. I definitely want to be part of all this!”

Before joining UCF, she was the Donaghey Distinguished Professor in Information Sciences and the executive director of the Emerging Analytics Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and an Arkansas Research Scholar through the Arkansas Research Alliance.

She holds a doctoral and a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of Illinois in Chicago; and a bachelor’s degree in systems engineering from the Universidad Metropolitana in Caracas, Venezuela.