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Digital > 14.6 Digital Miscellaneous

Living Cell


°  Background of the project
Worldwide, there are few research institutes that focus exclusively on the aging process and human cells. That is why the UMCG and the University of Groningen invest in the European Research Institute on the Biology of Ageing (ERIBA). They asked CLEVER°FRANKE to develop a visualisation of a tiny human cell and make it large and tangible.
The idea of ​​’The Living Cell’ was born. An interactive installation as part of an exhibition space in the ERIBA.
The Living Cell delivers, by means of interactive visualization, a tribute to the miraculous genomics research and the recent discoveries made by ERIBA. This installation shows the various components and processes of a human cell and makes it accessible to everyone.
• What happens if a cell ages and its DNA starts to contain errors?
• How does a cell react to bad external influences?
• How does the cell store energy?

°  Research phase
After formulating the concrete communicative message we performed substantive research into the subject.
• How many types of human cells are there and what do they look like?
• Which parts are relevant for the visualization and which are not?
• What are the functions of all the parts, what do we call them and what is our freedom for visual interpretation?

°  Concept phase
Using the expertise of various biologists and several sketch sessions to determine a number of scenarios, we developed a visual style and determined patterns of interaction.
The first version was controlled via buttons on a panel and we tested this at a festival. This  gave us a lot of information about how an audience interacts with complex, unknown information like processes in a human cell.
Based on this information, we decided the audience was too passive and needed to interact directly with the cell. We decided to let the audience into the cell to track their motion. In addition, we brought more focus on the visual language for simplification and we put descriptive texts to accompany the cell processes.

°  Experimentation
For motion tracking, we tried different techniques, but soon found that no out-of-the-box solution could be found. Ultimately, we chose to use a Microsoft Kinect camera which allows you to see moving objects by means of infrared light depth images. Visitors who walk through the cell can therefore influence it directly as if they are part of the cell.

°  Realisation
The Living Cell is designed as a serious game (simulation). We did not make use of recorded movies; every lifecycle of the cell is unique. For the graphical implementation we developed an OpenGL application, including hardware routines (shaders) for special effects such as dynamic fluids. We therefore chose to write a so-called particle-physics system to let every part of the cell react to the other parts and the visitor.
It was also important that the final application would be very stable on any system (for experiments, testing and eventually on the deployment platform).
After deployment, we tested how people interacted with text on the ground, how complex animations could become and there were many more considerations to take into account when we fine-tuned the Living Cell on the spot.

°  Result
The final version communicates through a series of scenarios that influence the cell. In addition, visitors can discover information about specific parts of the cell by walking into the cell and ‘touching’ the part of interest. The lifetime of the cell is approximately an hour, if there is no interference from the visitors. Eventually the cell will die and be born again.
The Living Cell is part of a permanent exhibition and open to anyone. It is located in the ERIBA building entrance which is part of the University Medical Center in Groningen. All visitors to the ERIBA can broaden their knowledge about something invisible to the naked eye. The visualization of a human cell in the Living Cell depicts the findings from the study of the ERIBA, increases insight for every visitor and encourages interaction in a playful way. 

  • Creative Directors Gert Franke & Thomas Clever
  • Art Directors
  • Designers Kim Leenards & Gijs Roest
  • Illustrators
  • Photographers
  • Editors Eva Teuling & Kelly Kersten
  • Copywriters
  • Developer Wilco Tomassen
  • Lead developer Gijs Roest
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