The AlloSphere of UC-Santa Barbara is a genre-crossing innovation

Imagine diagnosing a neurological disease by flying through the cortex of a human brain, examining data about brain activity presented beautifully through color or music.

Imagine discovering new patterns and trends in big data sets through lush, dynamic visualization.

Imagine creating transparent solar cells to power mobile devices by expanding our understanding of the multicenter hydrogen bond, using different hues and sounds to identify the various atoms.

These are among the cutting-edge research projects the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation supports at the University of California, Santa Barbara to explore the intersection of engineering, science, technology and art.

The Foundation funds five graduate fellowships in the Media Arts and Technology program to pursue work conducted between the university’s Experimental Visualization Laboratory and the AlloSphere Research Facility. The former, led by Professor George Legrady, focuses on data visualization, computational photography and arts-engineering collaboration; the latter is a 30-foot diameter immersive sphere built within a three story cube– which allows for analysis of large data sets in a virtual simulation of full sensorial perception.

“The idea is to push science in using our expertise as artists to map data and give us new abstractions to work with,” says Professor JoAnn Kuchera-Morin, a composer who founded and directs the AlloSphere.“We’re not designing virtual reality,” Kuchera-Morin explains. “In here, we’re designing reality.”

She says the Deutsch Foundation Fellows are forging a path into this new interdisciplinary field by working with multidimensional scientific and mathematical data in the same way that a composer, artist or designer would unfold a work of art or design a system

Media artists have a natural role in advancing research and discovery, Kuchera-Morin says. The computer is their palette, their paper and pencil, but the computer goes beyond text and numbers to digest visual and audio data.

Graham Wakefield, the Deutsch Foundation’s first Postdoctoral Fellow, is helping to extend the full-dome surround display for other researchers using the facility as well as creating unique artwork based on a fluid, interactive artificial ecosystem in the AlloSphere.

“This is a way of presenting data in a very visceral way that gives you an opportunity to see things that are incomprehensible in traditional ways, to use the full capacity of your senses,” Wakefield says. “What we’re doing is much more than computational art. It’s experiential art.”

-TD

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