D.C. Smith Conservatory Gets an Interactive Advocate Via “Model This!”

During the Wisconsin Science Festival from October 22-25, 2015, the D.C. Smith Greenhouse will be open in two different locations at the same time. This parallel universe is not due to the latest discovery in cloning, rather it is the winning concept of the Living Environments Laboratory’s “Model This!” contest where local middle and high school students vied to have a virtual experience of their creation come alive in the CAVE.

The CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) is a fully immersive virtual reality environment located in the Discovery Building. It projects images onto the walls, floor and ceiling of a 10 foot cube. The high-resolution, 3D graphics and virtual reality glasses tracking the user’s gaze promote a truly interactive experience. The system also has a surround sound audio system. Examples of other virtual environments previously shown in the CAVE include working kitchens, ski hill simulations and an entire galaxy of planets.

For the “Model This!” contest, students were challenged to develop a concept proposal to showcase their idea for a virtual environment. They also needed to provide a visual snapshot of what the virtual environment would look like. The teams of students were encouraged to incorporate this year’s Science Festival theme: “Made in Wisconsin”.

Model This contest winners in the CAVE
Jack Harris, Dylan Helmenstine and Eva Gemrich confer with Ross Tredinnick in the CAVE.

The winning team, Eva Gemrich, Jack Harris and Dylan Helmenstine are student-athletes and members of a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) group at Wisconsin Heights High School. Eva noticed during science and art camps she attended on campus that the greenhouse, which is open to the public 8:00am-4:30pm, Monday-Friday was serene, beautiful and mostly empty of visitors. The architectural award-winning building was a hidden gem that she shared with Jack and Dylan. When they decided to enter the contest the greenhouse was an easy fit for a virtual reality scheme and it was the perfect opportunity to capture the greenhouse’s beauty and inspire others to visit it.

The architectural award-winning building was a hidden gem.

Early in August the three students met with staff in the Living Environments Lab. They experienced some demonstrations in the CAVE and learned more about the LiDAR scanner that is used to capture two dimensional images from the greenhouse and convert them to a three dimensional display. They brainstormed some ideas with the staff including having a viewer start outside of the greenhouse and be able to walk in. They also envisioned adding interactive elements like accelerated plant growth, being able to virtually water the plants with a hose or turn on a misting system, and being able to feed koi fish in the fountain. To round out the experience they suggested playing the audio obtained at the greenhouse, primarily the sound of the fountain, and also getting audio of a horticulturist at the conservatory talking about one of the unique plants they have there.

To see which aspects of their virtual environment were incorporated into the final product, festival goers are encouraged to make a reservation. The actual greenhouse located at the intersection of Babcock and Linden Drives will also be open during the Science Festival on October 22nd and 23rd.

The Living Environments Lab will be offering the “Model This!” contest again starting in Spring 2016. Interested teams of students can check the LEL web page or sign up for the LEL mailing list to obtain more information.

Patricia Pointer