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Geography PhD graduate builds life-long connections and affinity for 3D GIScience while earning third degree from SFU

October 21, 2022

Ian Lochhead has a long history with SFU, completing a bachelor's degree, master’s of science, and now his doctorate in SFU’s Department of Geography. He’s worked on many diverse research projects in 3D geographic information science (GIScience) and spent hours having thought-provoking discussions in SFU’s Spatial Interface Research Lab (SIRL). “I have built some wonderful friendships and professional relationships that I will carry with me when I start the next stage of my career,” he says. 

When Ian took his first undergraduate course in geographic information systems (GIS), he didn’t quite know what to expect. Discovering a fascination with the material, he pursued a spatial information systems certificate, where he was exposed to what are now his specialties — 3D spatial data capture and geographic visualization. A final project where he combined conventional GIS workflows with 3D modelling and game development software to produce a model of the Academic Quadrangle, complete with simulated human movement inside, cemented his passion for 3D GIScience.

Since his start at SFU, Ian has worked on multiple research projects with Nicholas Hedley, director of SFU’s SIRL and professor in the Department of Geography. They’ve built a strong working relationship, and after completing his master’s, Ian decided to pursue his PhD to continue to learn from and work with Hedley.

With his PhD research, Ian sought to contribute to the body of knowledge on emerging technology in 3D GIScience. More experiential than conventional 2D methods of representing geographic information, 3D visualizations can enhance collaboration and learning opportunities, “presenting an opportunity to connect people, data, and spatial phenomena in new and meaningful ways” says Ian.

SFU’s SIRL lab conducts research and development in mixed, virtual, and augmented reality, building cutting-edge geovisualizations and simulations. As a member of the lab, Ian has been involved in producing high-resolution 3D models of sections of BC’s coastline, engineering a 3D platform to document and monitor changes in glass sponge reef structures in Howe Sound, and developing a virtual reality hoverboard for users to explore Martian landforms. He has also designed immersive exhibits at the Museum of Vancouver to teach Greek cultural history to children.

Ian is now actively pursuing a career in consulting, extended reality research and development, or product management. He’s also looking forward to future collaborations with Hedley.