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The World of Plankton is an interactive virtual 3 dimensional game-art and science environment designed to viscerally engage the participant at the micro-scale of unseen phytoplankton and zooplankton in order to gain first-hand experience about the drama of underwater life and its potentials for environmental impact.




Targeted for 8th graders and above, The World of Plankton highlights the importance and complexity of freshwater ecosystems. 



The participant is given choices to envision what this aquatic world might look like if conditions were to change—coming face to face with an animated spiny water flea devouring beneficial zooplankton or experiencing the unfolding events of a large algae bloom - all in a multidimensional world that enables a person to virtually snorkel through freshwater plankton.



Explore, locate and examine key zooplankton, phytoplankton and various types of fish. Affect lake levels of salt, nitrogen, phosphorus, and invasive species.



 In conjunction, there are hands-on physical 3D prints on a display table with pull-apart and stackable sculpted models of key plankton to familiarize people with what plankton looks like up close.

Hanging sculptural models of plankton blown hugely out of proportion overhead juxtaposed with floor graphics of swimming fish below and interactive augmented reality marker prints add to the total ambience of work. The project can be experienced as a projected virtual artwork installation in a gallery, a science or arts museum, in VR, or online.



The World of Plankton connects learning, experiencing and creating. We are resonating creative artistic inquiry and practice with the evolving research of the Jefferson Project, (a partnership between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, IBM, and The Fund for Lake George in revolutionary environmental monitoring and remediation that combines a network of sensors in and around Lake George in measuring physical, chemical, and biological parameters.)



The World of Plankton seeks ways to expand this inquiry and connect into a broader cultural understanding by creating artworks and environments that will enable us to see and hear what the lake is telling us as a total entity, and lead us to a deeper wisdom about how and why we need to protect our waterways. Together we are asking the questions that no one discipline alone can ask.



The team includes a trans-disciplinary group of artists, musicians, game designers, programmers, and scientists. There are special lighting effects, physics and a back end that enables data from the scientific research to be plugged into the visual and audio environment.  The World of Plankton is programmed in C# using the Unity 3D game engine.




 This work stems from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Department of the Arts / GSAS Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences outreach of the Jefferson Project and is in deep appreciation of the generous support by the Rensselaer Knowledge and Innovation Program (KIP), Building a Three Dimensional Model of the Plankton Distribution in Lake George.




This project has been in process a little over a year, with the first 8-10 months doing research with the scientists in the field, in the water (literally), and in the lab.  We are deeply thankful for the support of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute (DFWI) and the Jefferson Project and all the amazing people there who made our student research at the labs and at Lake George possible.

Additionally, we gratefully acknowledge the support of NVIDIA Corporation with the donation of the GPU used for this research.



© 2016 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute