Research

'UK at the Half': NSF Grant to Launch World-Class Cultural Heritage Lab

Photo of Brent Seales
Pete Comparoni | UK Photo.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 18, 2021) — For this "UK at the Half," Brent Seales, University of Kentucky Alumni Professor in the Department of Computer Science, explains how he — and a team of anthropologists and engineers — will use a $14 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to build a world-class cultural heritage lab. 

Heritage science is all around us and has deep roots in the Commonwealth. Kentucky’s story begins in prehistoric times, when mammoths roamed the Ohio River Valley at Big Bone Lick. Now, thanks to the NSF funding, the University of Kentucky is poised to tell that story in new, groundbreaking ways through the lens of heritage science.

“We are at a turning point,” said Brent Seales, UK Alumni Professor in the Department of Computer Science. “Science and technology present a host of exciting opportunities to the heritage sector. They must not be wasted.”

Using the NSF infrastructure funding, Seales has gathered a team of experts from the College of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences to build EduceLab — UK’s vision for next-generation heritage science. The collaborative facility will focus on developing innovative artificial intelligence (AI) solutions for the unique challenges presented by cultural heritage objects.

Heritage science draws on engineering, the humanities and the sciences to enhance the understanding of our past, inform the present and guide our future. Ultimately, the goal is to enrich people’s lives and celebrate both the commonality and diversity of the human experience.

“The word Educe means ‘to bring out from data’ or ‘to develop something that is latent but not on its own explicit.' That’s what we’ve been doing with our virtual unwrapping work. And that context has created an opportunity to expand the very focused question of, ‘Can we read what’s inside a scroll?’ to a broader question of, ‘What heritage science questions can we answer right here in Kentucky,'" Seales explained. “My goal is to rally some of the best researchers here around that theme and build a world-class laboratory that allows us to pose and then answer some of those questions.”

Seales is considered the foremost expert in the digital restoration of cultural antiquities. To this day, his quest to uncover ancient wisdom is ever evolving.

Overcoming damage incurred by time is no small challenge. But Seales, and his dedicated team, are committed to conquering the seemingly impossible.

“We're in a time now where our cultural heritage is the key to understanding and embracing our diversity," he said. “Focusing on heritage science can be key to unlocking, in a positive way, how that heritage can help us understand each other, collaborate together and shape our future."

EduceLab will function as a user facility for the heritage community and have its home base in UK’s William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology, located on Export Street in Lexington, next to the main campus.

You can learn more about the project here

"UK at the Half" airs during halftime of each UK football and basketball game broadcast on radio and is hosted by UK Public Relations and Marketing. To hear the "UK at the Half" interview, click on the play button above. 

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.