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See in 3D

January 7, 2021
equipment on a tripod with mountains in the background
A SoilSim 360-degree data capture session at Medicine Bow Peak; the project was developed for Assistant Professor Karen Vaughan by Kyle Summerfield and Phil Black of the 3D Viz Center. (Courtesy photo)

The Shell 3D Visualization Center uses tech to bring research and teaching to life.


By Micaela Myers


Whether it’s showing students the differences in soil around the world, bringing an art exhibition in 3D online for the Art Museum, or visualizing the movement of fluid through porous rock for petroleum engineering, the University of Wyoming Energy Innovation Center’s Shell 3D Visualization Center (Viz Center) offers truly interdisciplinary technology—enabling communication through visualization while raising achievement in teaching and research.

The Viz Center houses the only four-walled 3D CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) in Wyoming, along with a suite of complementary technology and software. The center recently expanded its capabilities with the new SimSuite laboratory.

“The goal of the simulation suite is to provide an additional workspace to do virtual and augmented reality,” says Shell 3D Visualization Manager Emma-Jane Alexander.

The SimSuite offers digital badges for students and short courses and performs additional research projects.

Altogether, the Viz Center employs five full-time staff members and a team of student interns known as technology program associates. In addition to working with UW faculty, staff and students on a wide range of projects, they conduct community outreach. To show the breadth of the center’s interdisciplinary work, we highlight a few recent projects.


Soil Sim

In collaboration with the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management and funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Soil Sim project supports the teaching of soil concepts with Assistant Professor Karen Vaughan. Students can view a global map and choose different biomes to explore.

“The goal is to create 360-degree immersive ecosystems that can really transport the user from reading something in a book to being immersed inside the data set,” Alexander says. “It’s going to be available on a desktop and phone and in virtual reality. Having these different ways to explore the same content is very important. It’s really about immersing and engaging the students, as well as raising their intellectual understanding of the academic content.”

The project is under development by Creative VR Lead Kyle Summerfield and 3D Digital Asset Developer Phil Black.


Fluid Through Porous Rock

As part of his Ph.D. defense, petroleum engineering student Samuel Fagbemi worked with center staff to create a three-minute video visualizing fluid moving through porous media. Fagbemi worked with Black to create the video’s visuals that bring his science and mathematics to life. You can view the video on the Shell 3D Visualization Center’s YouTube site.


silhouette of a person looking at images
In the Shell 3D Visualization Center, student Jake Claytor looks at a 3D model of a molecule.

Humanely Counting Insects

Alumnus Michael Curran recently completed his doctorate in ecosystem science and management and worked with the center on a method to humanely count insects at gas well pad reclamation sites. As sites are reclaimed, the goal is for plant, insect and animal life to return. To study insect health at these sites, previously a sweep would be conducted, where insects are literally swept up and taken back to the lab to count. Unfortunately, the process killed the insects, including endangered pollinators.

Curran worked with the center to use a 360-degree camera to capture insect data without harming the insects. 

“When you capture the 3- to 10-minute piece, you can take the data into the lab, put on a virtual reality display, and then you can stand there as if you’re standing in the flowers and count the bees without harming them,” Curran says. “Ethically, it appears a humane way to successfully count, plus you have the added benefit that you can repeat it.”

The research—“Use of 3-Dimensional Videography as a Non-Lethal Way to Improve Visual Insect Sampling”—was recently published in the journal Land.


Re(Evolution) Art Exhibition

With the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UW Art Museum looked for more ways to engage audiences online. The Viz Center had completed a 360-degree capture of the Re(Evolution) art exhibition with visiting artists Enrique Gomez de Molina and Troy Abbot last winter and worked with the museum to make the exhibition available on phones or desktops this fall.

The experience allows users to explore a 360-degree perspective of the exhibition, getting up close to the amazing sculpture exhibits.

Museum Director Nicole Crawford says, “We’ve not only preserved the exhibition in a digital form, but we’ve allowed repeat access and a wider access of an audience.”


Access for All

The Viz Center offers a host of services to the UW and wider community, including software and app development, grant support and collaboration, open houses and individual consultations, training, 3D content creation, virtual reality support and outreach (including mobile headsets), data and motion capture, and show and tell for K–12. Learn more at

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