On the Human Condition
Volume XXVIII Number 2
A 3-D still showing chromosomes from The Cell
Photo courtesy Albert William
Journey to the Center of Your Cells
The implausible mid-1960s thriller Fantastic Voyage placed a team of scientists in a submarine, shrunk them to the size of invisibility, and sent them on a perilous trip through a human to perform the ultimate microsurgery. Far from the silver screen of schlocky science fiction--the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus, to be exact--Albert William has created a special vehicle that takes travelers on an incredible journey through a single cell.
The Cell-A Virtual Tour is a CD-ROM with vivid 3-D and 2-D animations. The virtual tour allow viewers to observe the workings of DNA and proteins--life's building blocks--and how a single cell is formed. Once inside the cell, users can view the formation of cellular organs and the cell's reproductive processes. An interface gives users access to major detailed topic areas and narrations.
Textbook illustrations and graphics are necessary resources in teaching biology, but William sought to build a more realistic tool with The Cell.
"Many times, the content is accurate, but the graphics are not," he says. "Conversely, often the graphic elements are accurate but lack supporting content. I wanted to bridge the gap between science and art.
"My goal was to present complex biological and related scientific concepts and ideas in an interactive environment so they can be more easily understood by people in ways they might not be able to get from standard texts," says William, who teaches digital imaging to IUPUI undergraduates.
Nearly a dozen years ago, William was a researcher at the IU School of Medicine specializing in protein biochemistry and genetic analysis of brain disease. He says he saw a great need to better communicate biological and related processes to both professionals and general audiences.
"I wanted students to learn about a subject that traditionally has not been very fun," he adds.
Certainly, his work may find a large audience among the thousands of young students who tour the Ruth Lilly Health Education Center in Indianapolis. William is working with the center to reconfigure some of the content and animations of The Cell for use at the facility.
William also has developed life sciences-related multi-media for other public venues. The Neuron was part of a "Tomorrow's Indiana" exhibit at the Indiana State Museum, and he created a 3-D Genomics program for the School of Medicine. More recently, he devised interactive multimedia CD ROMs to give users virtual tours through the human heart and through surgical procedures for the knee and hip.
Samples of William's work can be viewed at http://informatics.iupui.edu/~almwilli.
Joe Stuteville is media relations coordinator for the IU School of Informatics in Bloomington.