Pentair Fellow wins ASPB grant for plant biology VR

Former NCSU Libraries Pentair Fellow Colin Keenan has received a grant of $44,000 to develop learning experiences in virtual reality (VR) related to plant biology and photosynthesis. The grant is from the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) in their Plant Biology Learning Objectives, Outreach Materials, and Education (Plant BLOOME) grant program.

The grant will allow Keenan, who recently completed a Masters in Plant Biology and has been hired at the Libraries as a University Library Technician, to continue work and use skills he has learned by virtue of having access to the Libraries’ VR Studio and 3D Scanning equipment. As a library user, Keenan began 3D scanning seeds from the Plant Biology department's vast collection, perfected those skills as a Pentair Fellow, went on to learn various VR platforms as a way of displaying his collections of scans, and finally prototyped VR animations related to plant biology. His work has been supported by Libraries Fellow Pete Schreiner, the VR Studio, and another Pentair Fellow, Shadrick Addy, who works on VR projects under Schreiner.

Keenan will do the bulk of the work on the grant. The listed Principal Investigator is Dr. Richard Blanton in Plant Biology. The Libraries will support Keenan’s work under the grant through its existing VR service model and its exhibition of the project at the Hunt Library in the Apple Technology Showcase and the iPearl Immersion Theater.

Keenan has developed a WebVR experience that deploys full VR capability in a standard web browser, enabling users to walk through a world containing much of the project information in an engaging, immersive way.

About the Pentair Fellows program
The Pentair Foundation generously funded the Pentair Fellows program for graduate student fellows at the Libraries to develop a curriculum for workshops they will teach on STEM tools and technologies. Free to NC State students, these Libraries workshops address knowledge and skills gaps that deter students from pursuing STEM fields.

The workshops cover both basic technology and tools, such as Excel and project management, and emergent ones like Python, Tableau, 3D printing and virtual/augmented reality. The Fellows also create parallel online tutorials for students to access remotely when studying abroad, working on internships in the field, or are otherwise unable to attend in person.