Researchers at RPI have developed a mixed-reality museum installation called the “World of Plankton (WOP).” WOP offers users a multisensory, interactive game based on phytoplankton ecology. Thanks to a virtual touch pool, users can manipulate and augment imagery of specific fish, microalgae, and other aquatic flora and fauna. Doing so launches sound effects, animation and engaging educational facts. The WOP exhibit connects to 3D printed sculptures and immersive mural, all of which are annotated with QR codes and augmented reality capabilities. Visitors who scan these codes with their smartphone cameras will find the objects come alive as audiovisual animations.

Policymakers need engaging ways to educate their constituents about unpleasant facts: unsustainable water usage, waste management, sewage treatment, and global climate change. The WOP project could serve as a useful template for publicly traded corporations who need compelling tools to educate customers, investors and legislators about microalgae protein, algal oil, sewage sludge (aka “biosolids”), and “tap-to-toilet” initiatives. The novel platform could breakthrough communicating otherwise unpalatable, intangible, or obscure information to biased individuals. The RPI team could help algo protein manufacturers create interactive exhibits for their foods. By doing so, customers can confront their own biases, ask questions, and explore the science for themselves at points of sale. Investor Relations vendors may consider this opportunity for evidence-based tools for scientific communications. 

A WOP mixed media installation is currently available at ECHO Innovation Playground at Lake George, which houses over 100 interactive exhibits, features 70 species of fish, reptiles, and amphibians.

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Natasha Sanford