Science of the Unseen Banner

Kathleen Ruiz, Christina Chiusano, Ian Stead, and Justin Cirigliano

World of Plankton

The World of Plankton is an interactive virtual three-dimensional art and science world designed to viscerally engage the participant at the micro-scale of unseen phytoplankton and zooplankton in order to gain first-hand experience about the drama of underwater life and its potentials for environmental impact. One is given choices to envision what this aquatic world might look like if conditions were to change — coming face to face with an animated spiny water flea devouring beneficial zooplankton, or experiencing the unfolding events of a large algae bloom – all in a multidimensional world that enables a person to virtually snorkel through freshwater plankton. By using simulation technology to invert tiny plankton to human scale The World of Plankton experience connects “us” to “them” in formulating a sense of the freshwater world that is not an “it” that is “outside” us, but a vital part of us all.

Starting with a flyover of a simulated model of Lake George created from bathymetric data, we then splashdown into the littoral area entering interactive underwater scenes where one can explore, experience and learn. The world view is scalable to fish, zooplankton and phytoplankton sizes. Our specially designed and programmed “examine cam” enables one to learn about and even experience what it may be like to be plankton. This project arises from my on-going scholarly and artistic research in creating interactive 3D simulation artworks that enable one to experience the world from multiple perspectives and explore capacities for empathy. Source materials include original lab and fieldwork observations that were recorded jointly with our science team of biologists and freshwater ecologists as well as original data. The project was programmed in C# in Unity 3D with AI, behaviors, underwater lighting and physics. 3D models created and rigged in Maya. Original music, Evan Gonzalez.

Media Used: Intensive study of freshwater ecology in the lab and in the field including microscopic and underwater explorations. The project was programmed in C# in Unity 3D with AI, behaviors, underwater lighting and physics. 3D models created and rigged in Maya.


Kathleen Ruiz, abd Ph.D. is an internationally exhibiting media artist who works with simulation, games, photography and sculpture exploring perception, behavior, and interaction. Her current research is centered on simulation, perspective and empathy and examines first-person experience, intentionality, and the possibilities for simulation to approach a non-colonizing understanding of “other”. She is currently Associate Professor of Integrated Arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Christiana Chiusano recently graduated from RPI eARTS 2015 in 3D modeling and animation. Justin Cirigliano is a current outstanding Computer Science/GSAS Game Simulation Arts & Sciences student graduating in 2016. Ian Stead is a well known international game designer and artist who graduated from RPI in 2007 majoring in Electronic Media Arts & Communication.

http://www.arts.rpi.edu/~ruiz/WorldOfPlankton/WOP.htm