By Chris Hoffman
UC Berkeley has recently embraced immersive visualization in the classroom, in research, and for public engagement. While this extends across all campus disciplines and a number of technologies, a growing community is using photogrammetry to develop 3D visualizations of objects and places, both as digital documentation to answer new questions inextricably linked to materiality. Dr. Rite Lucarelli, an Egyptologist in the Near Eastern Studies department, uses 3D models of sacrophagi to examine the interconnection between magic, science, and religion in ancient Egypt and in antiquity by focusing on magical texts belonging to the corpus of "Book of the Dead" and other related magical compositions on material items in their cultural contexts.
The HearstCAVE, an immersive visualization platform located in the Hearst Museum of Anthropology, has recently become the nexus for a series of visualization projects bringing together faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students who are exploring these evolving technologies. The HearstCAVE is part of a University of California project, At-Risk Cultural Heritage and Digital Humanities, that leverages similar platforms and teams at four University of California campuses (Grant ID Number CA-16-376911; PI: Thomas E. Levy, UC San Diego; Co-PI Benjamin Porter, UC Berkeley). The goal of this partnership is to develop a network of visualization centers that will preserve and share 3D visualizations of archaeological and cultural heritage sites that are at risk from a variety of natural and human forces.
The NSF-funded Pacific Research Platform recognized an opportunity to engage with a community of researchers working with these innovative technologies. Their early funding supported initial work by undergraduate students from UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz to develop 3D models of objects from the Hearst Museum (NSF Award 1541349; PI Larry Smarr, UC San Diego). Interest in this work led to new funding from UC Berkeley's Student Technology Fund which was used to hire and train additional undergraduate students to work with museum staff in the Hearst Museum to digitize objects that reflect the breadth of the collection.
Visualizing Digital Scholarship in Libraries and Learning Spaces
UC Berkeley’s participation in the “Visualizing Digital Scholarship in Libraries and Learning Spaces” project will allow us to broaden our community engagement effort to the UC Berkeley Library and three additional museums: the Berkeley Art Museum Pacific Film Archive, the UC Botanical Garden, and the University and Jepson Herbaria. The student team will work with museum and library staff to select and photograph collection objects from these diverse collections, building local experience within and across those communities so they may make informed decisions about the set of immersive visualization technologies that are becoming increasingly important for collections-based research, teaching and learning, and public engagement.
Tools and services
One of the significant challenges for developing high-quality photogrammetric 3D models at scale is the computationally-intensive nature of the processing. Our organization, Research IT, has developed a user-friendly Jupyter notebook that moves photogrammetric processing to an HPC environment. The project team will participate in user testing activities for the notebook, and we will invite feedback from the other institutions participating in the Visualizing Digital Scholarship project. Research IT software developers will refine the notebook in response to this feedback.
In order to support the ongoing curation and management of these visualizations, the 3D models must also be visible in the systems used by the community. Research IT will extend the open-source CollectionSpace collections management software used by museums on campus and beyond to embed and display 3D models in cataloging systems and public discovery portals.
There is a growing excitement at UC Berkeley around the possible applications of immersive visualization technologies in a wide variety of contexts. However, there is also a significant absence of deep expertise as well as the physical spaces, tools and software that will be needed to turn this opportunity into broader participation and new scholarship. The Visualizing Digital Scholarship project will help us move in the right directions by creating a campus-wide community, developing hands-on expertise, and providing real tools and documented examples to UC Berkeley and beyond.