Elizabeth Dickinson Gives $1.125 Million for New Duke Engineering Center


DURHAM, N.C. -- Elizabeth D. Dickinson, a Duke alumna and civic volunteer in Michigan, has given $1.125 million to the university's Pratt School of Engineering for a teaching and research laboratory to focus on developing new ways of presenting and visualizing information, Duke President Nannerl O. Keohane announced Wednesday.

The Gary W. and Elizabeth D. Dickinson Visual Analysis Center will be part of the school's new $97 million Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, Medicine and Applied Sciences (CIEMAS). A ceremonial groundbreaking is set for Saturday and the 320,000-square-foot structure is expected to be completed in August 2004.

"This state-of-the-art laboratory is a wonderful example of what the new, cutting-edge CIEMAS center is about -- it will be a place where faculty and students across the disciplines can come together, using the latest technologies to develop new ways of visualizing information and exchanging ideas," President Nannerl O. Keohane said. "We thank Libby Dickinson for her foresight and continued support of the Pratt School and of Duke."

Rachael Brady, who will direct the visual analysis center, describes it as a "state-of-the-art, fully immersive, virtual reality facility." A key part of the laboratory will be a 10-by-10-by-10-foot enclosure, or arcade, with computerized virtual reality images projected onto the walls, floor and ceiling.

The Dickinson Arcade will allow medical researchers to "walk" inside MRI scans of the human body, for example, Brady said. Psychologists will use the arcade to understand how visual perception drives information extraction, navigation and working memory. Engineers will use the arcade as a test bed for acoustic and sensor displays. Brady said she also expects that children and young adults will come to the arcade to experience first-hand the excitement of engineering and scientific discovery.

Dickinson's late husband, Gary W. Dickinson, was a 1960 graduate of Duke's engineering school and was executive vice president of General Motors Corp. and president and chief executive officer of Delco Electronics Corp. when he retired in 1997. He died in March 2000.

"This marvelous center will be a memorial to his vision," Dickinson said. "Gary would have been very excited about this advancement of technology and its research and teaching possibilities."

Dickinson, who graduated from Duke's Woman's College in 1961, has been a longtime supporter of the Pratt School and is a member of its Board of Visitors. She lives in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and has been active in many community activities in suburban Detroit, including service on the Community House Development Committee in Birmingham, Mich., and on the Meadow Brook Hall Development Committee in nearby Rochester, Mich.

The Dickinsons have two children, Jeffrey, and Debra D. Kelly, a 1989 graduate of Duke.