A team led by Nathan Hall, associate director of digital imaging and preservation services at Virginia Tech University Libraries, has received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to support current and future 3-D visualization and virtual reality technologies.

The $95,024 grant will allow a group of 60 Virginia Tech researchers and leaders in imaging science and digital libraries to attend three national forums on different themes - Content Creation and Publishing at Virginia Tech’s Executive Briefing Center in Arlington, Virginia; Visualization and Analysis at the University of Oklahoma; and Repository Practice and Standards (at the Big Ten Center in Chicago).

The team will create a plan for the library’s adoption of 3-D and virtual reality services as a way to pioneer new ways of interacting with digital content and build on the library’s current offerings in these areas.

Three-dimensional visualization and VR technologies show great promise for a range of scholarly fields. They offer new potential for interactive engagement with and analysis of spatially complex artifacts, spaces, and data.

Scientists can make more inferences from 3-D digital models than from photos, while humanists can visually represent texts, images, and material artifacts in virtual reality spaces for detailed analysis. For example, Virginia Tech’s paleobiology group scans skulls and other bones to create 3-D models of extinct species’ internal and external anatomy in order to study their morphology. Scanning also allows the group to share 3-D objects with researchers from around the world almost instantaneously.

Still, changes are required to effectively introduce 3-D/VR into academic research and education.

While many libraries have developed archives and policies for preserving and managing other forms of research data, there is a notable absence of standards and best practices for producing, managing, and preserving 3-D content and virtual reality environments.

The Virginia Tech University Libraries already are at the forefront of emerging 3-D/VR technologies in a number of ways. The libraries’ Virtual Environments Studio provides the university faculty, staff, and students with the hardware and software to experiment and build their skills in virtual reality content and programming. The 3-D Design Studio also offers free 3-D printing, workshops, and consultation services for all library patrons.

The grant will lead to knowledge that supports more of these kinds of initiatives.

It will also further Virginia Tech’s global potential to help researchers and developers create 3-D objects and virtual environments in a way that ensures long-term usability and re-use.

Written by Maria Atilano