Virtual Reality Project Shines A New Light On Penn State History
As virtual reality climbs closer and closer to the mainstream, Penn State decided to embark on a little VR project of its own, trying to give students, alumni, and anyone else interested a glimpse into the school’s past.
The aptly named Historic Campus Modeling Project utilizes different technologies, including virtual reality and 3-D modeling to recreate what University Park looked like at different stages in history. The project started as an effort to create 2-D models of the campus’ past, but transformed into its current state after the project team started toying with new technology.
“While the Department of Geography was creating two-dimensional campus maps, our group started wondering ‘What if we create the campus map in 3-D?’” project lead Alexander Klippel said. “Then we realized we could take that one step further through virtual reality.”
Klippel, an associate professor of geography and the Gosnell Senior Faculty Scholar and Fellow at the Stuckeman Center for Design Computing, said the team’s main source for the information to back this project comes from the university libraries, which have digitized versions of building maps and images of the buildings. These, along with other resources, allow the team to get as accurate a representation as possible of buildings that have seen their fair share of changes and even buildings which no longer exist.
“It’s just amazing how drastically campus has changed over the last 100 years,” Klippel said. “With this virtual reality technology, people can go back in time and experience campus as it once was.”
The team hopes VR maps will both give users a glimpse into the past and help them understand how it can impact the future for for Penn State.
“There’s a historical perspective that to understand the present you have to first understand the past, but it can be really hard to imagine it,” said Mark Simpson, a geography doctoral candidate working on the project. “So being able to see what was here before in virtual reality is really helpful.”