The Virtual Showcase

The Virtual Showcase is a new Virtual and Augmented Reality display device that has the same form factor as a real showcase traditionally used for museum exhibits. The Virtual Showcases consist of two main parts: the actual showcase covered with half-silvered mirrors and a graphics display underneath. This configuration allows the three-dimensional graphical augmentation of real scientific and cultural artifacts placed inside the Virtual Showcase. Another interesting aspect of the system is its support for four simultaneously tracked users looking at the Virtual Showcase from different sides. This feature allows the collaborative exploration of artifacts shown in the Virtual Showcase.

The Virtual and an illuminated stack of plates (simulation)

The Story

The Virtual Showcase at the German museum in Bonn explains the most important element of photosynthesis. In 1988 the German scientists Deisenhofer, Huber and Michel received the Nobel Price for identifying the spacial structure of the photosynthesis reaction center.
The so-called RC is the key element of photosynthesis: Here light energy is converted to eletric charge energy. For identifying the structure the molecule needed to be isolated, crystallized and then analyzed layer by layer using X-ray diffraction. At that time the scientists visualized their layers with transparent foil printouts that were stacked.
The Virtual Showcase reajusts this mode of operation: Instead of using transparent foils, molded plexiglas windows are installed containing the transferred historical analyses. These are illuminated side-wards from the egdes. The molded areas on the plexiglass windows also begin to glow. The museum visitors look at the stacked discs with active stereo glasses.
A tracking system which is installed at the upper part of the Virtual Showcase determines the position of the viewer. This way the graphic systems can generate an image of the molecule on the countersunk monitors that - if viewed through the mirror - superimposes the molded areas perfectly. Up to four inidividual stereo perspectives can be displayed simultaneously!
To make the spatial structure of the molecule and the superposition with the discs more comprehendable, the visitors can rotate the molecule with a steering wheel attached to the exterior. Since there is only one stack, there is only one steering wheel. Therefore the visitors have to agree on a certain rotation.
A background story with speech explains the meaning of the discs, the function of photosynthesis, the function of the RC and how to operate the device.

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