Unbeknownst to most UCSB students, UCSB’s Elings Hall is home to one of the world’s most cutting-edge scientific instruments: the AlloSphere, a three-dimensional, audio-visual experience that explores the far reaches of the human mind, all in globular form.
In addition to providing space for seven separate research labs, the metal and mesh sphere measures 10 meters in diameter and houses an observation ramp extending through the center of a virtual reality projector screen. While the project boasts significant aesthetic appeal as a collaboration between disciplines as diverse as music, cognitive sciences, art and engineering, it is also capable of presenting abstract experimental data in a virtual, sensory form.
AlloSphere Director JoAnn Kuchera-Morin said her vision for the futuristic facility became a reality in 2007, 26 years after she began to research and develop the project that has since opened theoretical capacities in an array of disciplines. Kuchera-Morin said the versatile site is used to test quantum mechanical theories, create diagrams of atomic particles, produce incredibly sophisticated works of abstract art and model the flow of blood in the circulatory system, among many other functions.
“We want to have proof of concepts that are pushing very complex data that are going to break the system constantly,” Kuchera-Morin said. “We are constantly breaking the system in order to leverage new information technology components.”
Using mathematical principles, a researcher could transform his or her data into a visual model able to be manipulated to produce additional information. According to AlloSphere Media Systems Engineer Matthew Wright, the device is unparalleled in its ability to dynamically serve a broad range of departments.
“It’s important that the [sphere] is multiuser, immersive and is both auditory and visual,” Wright said. “It’s not a movie theater — it’s computers in real time. Everything can be controlled on the fly.”
The AlloSphere utilizes a series of projectors and speakers and allows researchers to personally interact through 3D glasses, a keyboard, mouse and video game controller.
To remain on the forefront of advancements in technology, Kuchera-Morin said more than 500 additional speakers will be installed to better simulate the 3D auditory experience. The improvements will be carried out by over 25 graduate students and professors over the course of the next several months.
Eventually, Kuchera-Morin said she hopes the interior of the sphere will display over 50 million pixels and technology still in development; however, due to the contingent nature of technological advancements, the current renovations could be subject to further improvements after only two years.
“We want to project on the entire sphere,” Kuchera-Morin said. “We will need a series of projectors that project different sizes and shapes. No one has really dealt with that before. There are different protocols with dealing with the left and right eyes. Currently, most graphics cards cannot talk to this technology.”
As operating costs exceed $3,000 per hour, the AlloSphere is not open to the general public and only accessible to students directly involved with the ongoing research. However, the AlloSphere Research Facility holds quarterly occasional tours and is showcased at the Media Arts and Technology’s End of the Year show in June.