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Implementing Virtual Environments for Education and Research at NDSU. Aaron Bergstrom & John Bauer. World Wide Web Instructional Committee (WWWIC).

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Implementing virtual environments for education and research at ndsu
Implementing Virtual Environments for Education and Research at NDSU

Aaron Bergstrom & John Bauer

World wide web instructional committee wwwic
World Wide Web at NDSUInstructional Committee(WWWIC)

  • WWWIC is an ad hoc group of North Dakota State University faculty dedicated to developing internet-based educational software.

  • The mission goals of WWWIC are to teach science structure and process: the Scientific Method, scientific problem solving, deduction, hypothesis formation and testing, and experimental design.

  • The individual goals of each project are to teach the content of individual scientific disciplines.

Projects to be discussed today
Projects To Be Discussed Today at NDSU

Virtual Cell -

Cell Biology Educational Environment


Digital Archive Network for Anthropology

Geology - Explorer

Planetary Educational Environment for Teaching The Basics of Geological Field Research

Virtual cell
Virtual Cell at NDSU

Project Co-PI’s:

  • Dr. Phil McClean

  • Dr. Brian Slator

  • Dr. Alan White

  • The Virtual Cell (VCell) is an interactive, 3-dimensional visualization of a biological environment.

  • To the student, the Virtual Cell looks like an enormous navigable plant cell populated with 3D organelles.

  • In this environment, experimental goals in the form of question-based assignments promote deductive reasoning and problem-solving in an authentic visualized context.

Starting the vcell environment
Starting The VCell Environment at NDSU

Current Version:

  • Netscape 4.08+

  • CosmoPlayer 2.1 Plug-in

  • Java 1.1

  • PC Only

  • Issues with Macintosh

The VCell login window is launched from the Virtual Cell Home page by clicking on the “Login & Play” link. It may also be opened from the Site Map page.

Game play
Game Play at NDSU

  • Once logged into the Virtual Cell, the student must meet with the lab assistant by clicking on his body.

  • Reference information about cell organelles and other resources is available through the “Information” pull-down menu.

  • Instructions from the lab assistant and communication messages from other players are displayed in the “User to User” communication box.

  • Students may communicate with other players by typing messages into the communication box.

Mission 1 investigate cell structure
Mission 1: Investigate Cell Structure at NDSU

Successful identification is based on experimental results. No guessing is allowed.

To identify an organelle the student must select the “identify” action from the “Action” pull-down menu. Then the student chooses an object for the item which the student wishes to test. Once this has been done, the student must click on an organelle to identify it. In this case the player has identified the chloroplast.

Choose identify action here

Choose organelle to identify here

Construction of the virtual cell 3 d models
Construction of the Virtual Cell 3-D Models at NDSU

Software Used:

  • CosmoWorlds 2.0

  • Photoshop


  • 3D geometry for cell organelles created as VRML 97 IndexFaceSets

  • Where used, texture maps are repeated textures

  • Most textures were created from a photograph of the surface of a football.

  • It is particularly difficult to create small-downloadable textures for organically shaped models. Much warping can be seen inside the cell.

  • Since CosmoWorlds has been discontinued, it is difficult to update hardware and still use CosmoWorlds as an authoring tool. Win98 and Win 2000 do not properly handle the animation tool’s GUI.


Architecture overview of the multi user object oriented domain dungeon moo
Architecture Overview of the Multi-user Object Oriented domain/dungeon(MOO)

Overview written by Brad Vender:

The scene graph for the virtual cell is constructed by the Lamba MOO server running on the VCell server machine. This is done in 3 stages.

When the client logs in to the MOO and the MOO responds with the user's object number. This object number is considered the user's avatar, so the geometry is never actually shown. This object is marked as unresolved for the next stage.

Stage 1:

Stage 2:

Once connected, the client has four major responsibilities for maintaining the scene graph.

  • Create basic stubs for each unresolved node in the scene. Request that node's representation from the server, and automatically register for updates at the same time.

Architecture overview of the multi user object oriented domain dungeon moo1
Architecture Overview of the Multi-user Object Oriented domain/dungeon(MOO)

Stage 2 Continued:

  • As representations are received from the server, the stubs are completed as needed. Since the location and contents of the node will reference other nodes, this will introduce new nodes to be handled by response 1.

  • Apply updates received from the server. If a known object's location or contents change, resolve or discard nodes as appropriate.

  • Propagate events from various nodes as appropriate back to the server.

Stage 3:

Disconnect from the server and clean everything up.

Future development of the virtual cell environment
Future Development domain/dungeonof the Virtual Cell Environment

The VCell project has begun a transition program to deal with the demise of Cosmo product line and cross-platform delivery issues.

Screen Shot of Java3D/X3D Client


  • Maya Complete and DeepPaint3D were recently purchased in order to deal with CosmoWorld’s inability to operate properly under newer Windows platforms as well as to enhance modeling and texturing capabilities of the overall project.

  • A new Java2/Java3D/X3D interface is being developed so that VCell can operate outside of browser-based environment.

  • Tools, such as a Java3D level editor are being developed to streamline the implementation of new levels.

Digital archive network for anthropology dana
Digital Archive Network for Anthropology (DANA) domain/dungeon

Project Co-PI’s:

  • Dr. Jeffrey T. Clark

  • Dr. Brian Slator

  • Dr. William Perrizo

  • DANA is intended to be a cross-platform information retrieval system for web-based multimedia utilized in anthropological research.

  • Ultimately, the goal of the DANA project is to create a network of distributed, federated databases containing research quality digitized 3D models, photographs, and video of archaeological and cultural data.

  • To the user seeking to access a broad variety of data, the client application will seem as though it is a user-friendly interface to a single online database. In actually, the user will be conducting searchers across a wide variety of databases located across the globe.

Dana fact sheet
DANA Fact Sheet domain/dungeon

Technology Used:

  • Java3D

  • Java JDK 1.3

  • Java Web Start

  • Java Servlets

  • JDBC

  • NCSA Java3D Portfolio

  • IBM’s HotMedia Classes

  • Though further research is required to implement the distributed, federated network aspects of DANA, the database browsing application currently supports servlet search capabilities for Postgress, mySQL, and Oracle databases.

  • DANA currently only displays VRML 97 and HotMedia 3D models, though the addition of 3D file formats supported by the NCSA Java3D Portfolio is expected soon.

Starting the dana applet
Starting The DANA Applet domain/dungeon

After installing Java Web Start and the Java3D API, return to the application launch page at:

Once there, click the “Launch DANA Applet” button.

Next a “login” box will appear, where the user enters in his/her username & password and then clicks the “Login” button to start the DANA applet.

New users may create a new login and password by filling in the username & password boxes and then clicking the “Create” button. The applet will then ask for the user’s name and e-mail address.

Future educational uses for dana
Future Educational Uses For DANA domain/dungeon

Immersive Virtual Lab

  • Shared/collaborative research environment

  • Global student education lab

Digitally-Enhanced Museum Exhibits

  • Multi-use Kiosk and Web-based presentations

  • Screen shots of the World Endocast Viewer, a simulated use of DANA