Mack Lunn: Full Interview

Since the paper limits the word count, here is a full in depth look into what Mr. Lunn is doing.

What is the core mission of iCube?

The iCube is a multidisciplinary learning environment that makes it possible for any of our students to extend their learning into avenues that interest them outside of the classroom. We encourage personal learning, and thereby the pursuit of personal projects. We have a unique setup that intertwines different majors into working together on projects, and provide the capabilities to make sure they are equipped and knowledgeable.

We’ve received tremendous support from the administration at TTU to make this a reality. They repeat a mantra of “Imagine, Inspire, Innovate” as the three pillars of the iCube.  We are most well-known for our ability to create high-level virtual reality simulations, websites, 3D Printed projects, applications, and campaigns, but we work on a vast variety of projects applying technology.

We continuously work to give back to the University itself and find ways to integrate our teachings into the classroom, wherever possible. We are a faction of the college of engineering and the college of business, but we have found ourselves deeply entwined in many other colleges on campus, specifically Education, Nursing, and athletics.

What is a general description of what you do?
In short, I provide opportunities to learn for the students at Tennessee Tech.

I am the Manager of Special Projects at the TTU iCube, which is a title that is just ambiguous enough to allow me the privilege of using the latest and greatest technology to solve problems. I work with a great team of iCube employees and an a multidisciplinary group of students with a high drive and interest for learning. My job is to find strategic projects that offer a unique opportunity for learning, put together teams to accomplish the goals of the project, perform any necessary training and provide leadership in getting things done, and go after grants and/or funding.

On any given day when I come into work, there are robots running around, drones flying, 3D printers humming creations into existence, students working in virtual reality headsets, and more. It’s a fast-paced, open environment that requires a lot of mental agility so as to maintain a competitive edge. Moreover, in addition to keeping a finger on the pulse of technology that exists, I closely examine what is needed. I listen closely to find out what it is that students want to learn, and then make a point to integrate that if at all possible.

 

mack2

Good with technology, but wait until you see the snowballs he can craft
What kind of projects do you work on that have societal benefits?
We have become lucky enough to be able to orient ourselves towards projects that serve a societal impact—a variety of public policy projects.

We have worked extensively with the Tennessee Aquarium at Chattanooga on some educational entertainment projects including:

* Making their electric eel power his own Twitter account, tweeting facts whenever he emits a surge of electricity.
* Implementing beacons on their mobile app that uses proximity-based notifications to alert users when they are near an endangered species while touring the aquarium
* A classroom simulation that uses VR to demonstrate the effects of pollution and other harmful behaviors on a river ecosystem
* A “Fish Finder” that is permanently installed near the saltwater reefs that allows children and their parents to deduce the species of fish they are looking at and learn more about them
* TNACIFIN – A network for field scientists that uses geo-location to map where endangered fish have been found to help with conservation efforts

For education:

* We recently launched a behavior monitoring app for the education department that allows future teachers the experience of being in a virtual classroom environment, charged with detecting behavioral issues. You can also play the role of a student -exhibiting– these issues, for fellow classmates to detect.
* One of my pet projects is MakerMinded, which is a multi-state, Department of Defense funded program aimed at integrating STEM and Advanced Manufacturing activities with middle and high school classrooms—we offer points for completing activities, visiting related facilities for tours, etc that can be used towards really cool incentives like winning a 3D printer or a virtual reality station for your classroom.
* In terms of healthcare, we have created a diabetes simulation to show what is going on inside your body to cause this disease, a tour of the heart and lungs that shows how blood becomes oxygenated, and more.
* We work closely with the Tennessee Highway Safety Office on their marketing—which has prompted us to create several educational simulations that showcase why its dangerous to drive while intoxicated, texting, or otherwise distracted or inhibited. One of the projects places users in a simulation of downtown Nashville, complete with an AI that controls the stoplights so that other drivers mimic realistic driving behaviors. The driver is then introduced to simulations of different substances to witness their effect on the driving experience.
* We are working with different research projects as well, that all hold environmental implications. One of our genius students has developed a mechanism for turning recycled water bottles into 3D Printer filament!
* We are working with the Cullman Dam, and also researching the Falling Water River, to generate both engineering and animated models to help decide what course of action will be the most beneficial

How can virtual reality help hospitals?
Hospitals are a unique environment for virtual reality development because it can be applied at so many different levels. From an entertainment perspective, patients who would otherwise be bedridden can now travel the world at a moment’s notice, or simply connect with their family and friends. From a preventative standpoint, VR offers a new tool in education to give patients an “inside look” as to what is going on inside their own bodies—a knowledge which has been proven to be linked to positive behavioral change. For future doctors—and even doctors themselves—VR serves as an interactive learning tool. We have created self-guided, narrated tours of many of the body systems that users can explore at their own pace—sort of in the same vein as the Magic School Bus, but on a much more detailed level.

As we move into the future, the impact on biomedical engineering intertwining with virtual reality has become a daily game changer—lives have been saved from this new set of tools.

mack3

No purrfect Christmas is complete without a tabby cat

People like to know what motivates others, and what their passions are. Why do you do what you do?

I truly love what I do. I’m living every technogeek’s dream!

I love figuring things out, and never quite having the whole answer available to me—which makes the utilization of cutting edge technology very appealing. I love helping others, and being able to do so on such a broad scale is heavily rewarding. We are in the unique position to mentor students from the time they are just entering college to truly fulfill their potential and wildest dreams at the same time that we are helping major businesses with major scalable applications. I’ve gotten to tour NASA and work with the Army and travel a great deal of the US in the pursuits of creating a more broad knowledge base for our students. At the end of the day, we’re representative of the university and we are here to bolster the educational experience, and I take that responsibility very seriously. I truly care about people, and one of my core duties is to listen to people’s needs and figure out how to deliver on them, which I love doing.

The main thing I try to stress to people is to invest a little bit of time to figure out how we might be able to help create new good together. We visit middle and high schools very regularly—not to recruit, but to encourage young minds to start thinking critically and creatively early on. We have a lot of free programs where you can do, see, and earn some pretty cool stuff!

We also offer tours for school groups (and, really anyone who is interested, though we emphasize learning programs!) so if this interests you, schedule a tour and come check us out!


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