Exploring the Immersive Universe

The week of March 16, I attended the 2016 IMERSA Summit in Denver, CO. IMERSA stands for Immersive Media, Entertainment, Science, and Arts. As a non-profit professional trade association, it assists professionals who participate, one way or another, in the production of extensive immersive digital experiences, and advances the art and technology of these experiences.

Each year, for the past eight, friends of the immersive community from all over the world, come together to search for common ground as we all navigate a landscape of rapid technological and social change. As a Floridian, for me this is also an opportunity to hit the slopes but that is a story for some other time. The diverse community I share the week with celebrates the worlds of giant screen cinema, themed entertainment, gaming, virtual reality, planetariums, computer graphics, science visualization, and informal science education.

Something obvious at this point is that immersive environments are on the rise, and it is Frost Planetarium’s goal to open its doors to scientists, educators, students and artists, not only to help them develop their own content, while contributing to their careers, but also to contribute to the furthering of the medium itself. All this, while sharing our love for the night sky, and not only taking you on awe-inspiring journeys through the universe, but also inviting you to dive deep into the Gulf Stream, explore the inside of the human brain, and discover the world of nanotechnology, creating thus connections between the planetarium and other galleries of Frost Science such as the Feathers to the Stars exhibition, the Me Lab, and the Living Core aquarium.

The summit’s keynote speakers—Dr. David McConville, Jenny Carden, and Dr. JoAnn Kuchera-Morin—as well as all other presenters, discussed with enthusiasm and optimism the past, present, and future of immersive environments.

Dr. McConville, from the Buckminster Fuller Institute, reminded us of an interesting phrase coined by English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge about two centuries ago: “willing suspension of disbelief.” Think about it. During astronomy live shows, audiences are implicitly expected to suspend disbelief in the ability of science to produce a premier perspective on the world; one that situate observers at the center of their observations by breaking down divides between the arts, the sciences, and the humanities.

On a different note, artist and futurist Jenny Carden (aka Zenka) revealed the humorous development of virtual and augmented reality including visionary Hugo Gernsback’s TV glasses; and shared how museums and other entities are using these technologies today to create incredible experiences, such as Google’s Expeditions. This recent and exciting revolution is one we somehow are caught up with, as planetariums, for example, have always been at the forefront of immersive media experiences.

Hugo Gernsback photographed for Life magazine in 1963 wearing his TV glasses.

Finally, Dr. Kuchera-Morin, from the University of California–Santa Barbara, considered the dos and don’ts of displaying, navigating, analyzing, and interacting with big data in large scale visual and auditory displays, something that is becoming more and more relevant. Making sense of these data is one of the educational challenges of the future.

Big data, virtual reality, and the contextualization of immersive experiences are just the tip of the iceberg. Many other topics were addressed and discussed by an ever growing and engaged community.

The development of the new state of the art 8K Frost Planetarium recognizes these and other concurrent topics, and is set to actively contribute to them by becoming a center of excellence in South Florida. I cannot wait to go to IMERSA again next year on behalf, at last, of an open and active planetarium.

Keep looking up!


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