Sunday, June 2, 2019By:
Week one has come to a close, and I am a mix of excited and anxious about what the next nine weeks will look like.
My first week was a bit tougher than most, I think, because I saw my mentor, James Roche, for a total of two hours before being set loose into the world of interning. We met Tuesday after orientation. We talked mostly about the real important things for my internship, like where the coffee was located and how to use the fancy, industrial-looking Keurig. I asked a few questions about my internship, we discussed some expectations, timeline, and the scope of work document that we had talked about before I arrived in DC. By 4pm, I was dragged off by my peers to try and locate a grocery store that wasn't as exorbitantly priced as the Whole Foods across the street from our accommodation. After that, James was out of town for the rest of the week and I was left to fend for myself.
The terms of my internship are also unique. Most of my peers have set projects that they have been assigned to work on. For the APS Public Engagement internship, I had the unique opportunity of proposing my own project to work on, along side the other duties as assigned. It’s a super exciting opportunity, but as someone who needs a lot of structure to be productive, it’s also very intimidating.
Some background you should know before I can tell you about my project: I’m a graduated senior from Coe College with a degree in Physics and Fine Arts. One of the requirements for graduating in Fine Arts is to put on a Senior Thesis Exhibit, which is a culmination of all 4 years of hard work and dedication. My Senior Thesis Exhibit focused on using art as a medium to make science more accessible (and fun!) for people who might not have otherwise been interested in scientific topics. I illustrated fun science facts that I had learned during my time at Coe, and titled them just vaguely enough to peak the interest of the viewer. Each piece had a QR code attached, which lead to an article or video talking about the topic that inspired the piece in a fun, interactive, and easy to understand way.
During my interview for the internship position, it surprised me to learn that this is exactly the kind of thing they wanted for the APS Public Engagement internship. The American Center for Physics has regular art shows focused on science topics, and displays a number of different artists work throughout the building. My show is going to be the test case for a new Virtual Reality Gallery, hosted on PhysicsCentral.com.
This project is being pieced together, even as I write this post. With James out of town, it was difficult to gauge the direction in which to take my project. Should I focus more on the work itself, and spend my time developing new art pieces to show? Or is the platform on which the user interacts a more important thing to focus on, and my work would just be one case study? These were just some of the questions I was trying to sort out during this last week. Most of my time was spent researching VR Software.
Now, reflecting on the week, I am a bit worried that I tried to bite off more than I can chew. There are tons of software out there that already exists for virtual gallery spaces, but they are pretty limited by how much work you can upload, the image quality, and the compatibility on multiple platforms (web, mobile, and VR). During my research, I dived deep down into the rabbit hole of VR and discovered Unreal Engine 4 – a game development software that met all the requirements I was looking for regarding the VR side of the gallery. It required some 3D modelling, but TinkerCAD would do the trick. I was excited, Unreal had all of the fully customizable elements that I wanted for the VR Gallery. The only problem is that it’s incredibly complicated to figure out. The learning curve is killer, and this project needs to be transferrable for future exhibits.
So, there’s two options going forward. I could really challenge myself by essentially developing my own VR Gallery software that has all the features I wanted, and the cross compatibility we need. Or, I could shift back and focus more on my own artistic practice and create engaging work, while sacrificing the quality of the user interaction.
On one hand, challenging myself would help me develop new skills and push myself out of my comfort zone. Developing a new software has long term benefits for APS because its expandable for future exhibits, and not reliant on a subscription service. On the other hand, using premade software and focusing on my own work is a safe bet that allows a lot more flexibility during the ten weeks I have to spend here.
To balance my desire to jump head first into something incredibly challenging and my paralyzing fear of crashing and burning, I decided to propose a 1 week test period using Unity. If I can pull together a proof of concept by next Friday, and it doesn’t seem like such an incredibly daunting task for ten weeks, then we can move forward with that. James and I are set to discuss this in person Monday, which will also help me get a better feel for the expectations and limitations for this internship. I guess I’ll have to let you all know what happens next week!