Newswise — Troy, N.Y. – At the confluence of game design, art, and science is The World of Plankton, a virtual touch-pool aquarium that explains the role of plankton in freshwater ecology. In an installation at the ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, The World of Plankton allows up to four players to gather around a giant digital touch table to capture and explore zooplankton, phytoplankton, and fish species.

The World of Plankton exhibit was funded by the Jefferson Project at Lake George—a collaboration between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, IBM Research, and The FUND for Lake George—and designed by Kathleen Ruiz, associate professor of integrated arts and co-founder of the Rensselaer Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences program.

Ruiz and Rensselaer students collaborated on the project with Jefferson Project researchers with a goal of introducing the public to the hidden realms of microscopic freshwater organisms and the importance of protecting freshwater resources.

On Lake George, the Jefferson Project has developed the world’s most advanced environmental monitoring system, to better understand and protect freshwater ecosystems from the impacts of human activities. This new model of ecosystem protection combines a Smart Sensor Network that gathers more than nine terabytes of physical and chemical data annually; computer models that depict the flow of water and threats throughout the watershed; surveys of plants and animals; and ongoing experiments to determine the impacts of human activities on the lake.

The project—which draws on research experts in biological sciences, earth and environmental sciences, engineering, computer science, and the arts—has sparked numerous offshoots, including The World of Plankton. Working under Ruiz’s direction, students in the arts and game design programs at Rensselaer developed original two- and three-dimensional art, animation, music, sound design, artificial intelligence, and programming for the installation.

“Jefferson Project is delighted to see science and art merged in an advanced medium that communicates the importance of protecting fresh water around the world and also represents the promise of technology in protecting our environment,” said Rick Relyea, director of the Jefferson Project at Lake George and the David M. Darrin ’40 Senior Endowed Chair.

The interactive installation sits on a platform that resembles sculpted lake rocks and is surrounded by an original 32-foot digitally painted mural and an animated Plankton Zoo featuring three-dimensional print sculptures in resin. Visitors can bring the plankton sculptures to life on their mobile devices by scanning QR codes found in the installation to activate original animation and music.

"World of Plankton is not only beautiful but highly engaging—a real achievement. Our guests have been visibly delighted by the experience,” said Nina Ridhibhinyo, director of programs and strategy at ECHO.

The exhibit opened September 22 and will run through January 6, 2019, at the ECHO Innovation Playground, 1 College Street, Burlington, Vermont. The World of Plankton exemplifies the vision of The New Polytechnic, an emerging paradigm for higher education which recognizes that global challenges and opportunities are so great they cannot be adequately addressed by even the most talented person working alone. Research at Rensselaer addresses some of the world’s most pressing technological challenges—from energy security and sustainable development to biotechnology and human health.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is America’s first technological research university. For nearly 200 years, Rensselaer has been defining the scientific and technological advances of our world. Rensselaer faculty and alumni represent 85 members of the National Academy of Engineering, 17 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 25 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 8 members of the National Academy of Medicine, 8 members of the National Academy of Inventors, and 5 members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, as well as 6 National Medal of Technology winners, 5 National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With 7,000 students and nearly 100,000 living alumni, Rensselaer is addressing the global challenges facing the 21st century—to change lives, to advance society, and to change the world. To learn more, go to