Category Archives: Culture & tourism

Art explaining semiconductors


Sensing colours, photo collage. Image: Nedyalka Panova (2016)

The use of creative art for explaining
organic semiconductors

Nedyalka Panova (artist-in-residence) | Organic Semiconductor Centre,
School of Physics & Astronomy

My work explores the boundaries between art and science, organic and inorganic, natural, synthetic and manmade.  I work in collaboration with the Organic Semiconductor Centre led by Prof Ifor Samuel on “The use of creative art for explaining organic semiconductors”. The purpose of the project is to give a higher visibility to the interesting phenomenon of organic semiconductors using their aesthetic values.

Interdisciplinary collaboration such as this, between artists and scientists, is an increasingly popular way to bridge the gap between ‘arts and humanities’ and ‘science and technology’. It brings together experts from different fields and the outcome is art exhibitions for public domain.

While the concept of colours and shapes of natural materials inspires artists over centuries in their studies of nature, material science progress by scientists has created a new range of synthetic materials which are manufactured using completely different set up and equipment.  In this context, contemporary art and science starts asking new questions: How can art respond to the colours that are invisible to visible light?  How can invisible 2D imprinted patterns be used as colours and structures? The line between the past and the future of modern technological world is drawn with a nanoscale precision and the question is: Are these new technological tools also a new media for creative endeavours?

Organic semiconductors combine properties of both metals and organic polymers with their capacity to conduct electricity. This opens new doors for applications in light communication, organic LED displays, healthcare and harvesting energy from abundant natural sources such as sun light. Their general target is to offer an alternative solution to the existing inorganic electronic components or to combine the best of both worlds in a new generation of hybrid devices.


Arabidopsis Thaliana seeds germination used for explosive sensing. Image: Nedyalka Panova (2016)

Virtual Museums


The Eu-LAC museums project Virtual Museum

Virtual Museums for 3D and 360 technologies

Dr Alan Miller, Dr Karen Brown & Catherine Cassidy | School of Computer Science, School of Art History & Open Virtual Worlds

Recent advances in the computational power and graphic capabilities of mobile phones and computers make possible a new generation of Active Virtual Museums. They will empower communities to express their heritage with 360 and 3D technologies. “As well as their traditional role of collecting, preserving and sharing rich collections, museums now find that they play an increasing role in supporting the development of communities.” Museums Association of Britain. Museums also play an important economic role through tourism.  Virtual museums complement physical museums by improving accessibility, providing different perspectives and engaging new audiences. The development and spread of digital literacies underpins the Active Virtual Museum project can extend participation in the life of museums.

Why is it important research?

This improves user experience, empowers community participation and widens engagement with cultural heritage. It has enabled us to develop a Virtual Museum framework to make it easy for museums and heritage organisations to realise the opportunities offered by emergent technologies.

What is the research?

The research focusses on the challenges arising from the application of emergent mobile and immersive technologies to community and is informed by a practice based methodology where real world use cases are explored. A system strand investigates the relationship between Quality of Service and quality of experience to optimise the value users get from systems. A second strand investigates the functionality that meets real world requirements of museums and strand investigates the relationship between technology, museums, community and tourism.

How as it been applied?

We conceive of the Virtual museum framework as mirroring and providing support for the activities of real world museums. The Virtual Museum provides support for the creation of digital exhibits using 3D and 360 media. It has been used in and developed through the EU-LAC Museums Horizon 2020 project, in which St Andrews is a lead partner. The Virtual Museum is an output of a series of workshops that have been held in community museums across Latin America the Caribbean and Europe. The virtual museum provides support for:

  • Virtual reality immersive tours using Google Cardboard and mobile phones.
  • Creating Galleries of 3D artefacts for embedding in websites, social media and exhibitions.
  • Developing Virtual Tours of museums and their environs, using 360 media.
  • A community facing wiki, which enables interpretation and engagement.
  • Support for upload of media, archiving and creation of meta data.
  • A toolkit to support the creation of 360 and 3D media.

Information is also organised spatially by an interactive mapping interface which allows the geolocation of museums, galleries, tours and objects. The research is important because it enables the use of Virtual reality, 360 tours and 3D technologies within a Virtual Museum context.

Underlying research for this work has been supported by EPSRC studentships, application of the research was supported by EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account. Development of the EU-LAC Virtual Museum has been a collaboration between the Schools of Computer Science and Art History, with the participation of community museums.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 693669.


Clay Drum from Trinidad and Tobago National Museum


Virtual Reality tour of the Museum of the Boruca Indians, Costa Rica


3D Workshop in Unst Boat Shed, Shetland, Scotland

eu-copy eu_lac-copy

Virtual time travel in pre-reformation Edinburgh – PUBLIC PREMIERE


Pre-reformation Edinburgh Grassmarket under construction

Virtual time travel and digital reconstruction of
pre-reformation Edinburgh

-Public Premiere-  

Dr Alan Miller & Mr Keith Millican  | School of Computer Science & Smart History

In “A View from a Hill”, a ghost story by M. R. James, an archaeologist’s binoculars allows them to see scenes from the past. This project will enable visitors and residents of Edinburgh to see the city as it was just prior to the reformation. We use mobile phones and the Google Day dream platform to deliver an onsite dual reality experience. As visitors explore the sites of Edinburgh, they can see into the past using their digital time travel binoculars. The app is mobile and orientation aware, automatically delivering the correct view. A map interface allows an engaging experience for remote virtual visitors as well.


Pre-reformation Edinburgh Netherbow under construction

Why is it important?

This approach enables the user experience to be optimised for technology that they already have in their pocket. It makes virtual time travel a reality that is available to mass audiences. This provides a new way of interacting with the past that both enriches the visitor experience and provides insights into the past not otherwise readily available.

What is the research?

The VTB design draws upon EPSRC funded research at the University of St Andrews into dual reality systems where the virtual and real worlds occupy the same space. Position and orientation within the two worlds are synchronised enabling intuitive exploration of both worlds through movement in the real world. We investigated dual reality systems through exploring inside (St Salvators Chapel) and outside (St Andrews Cathedral) using modified Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard VR headsets. This led us to observe that users tended to look around whilst using the headsets.

Observation of users led us to a viewpoint oriented approach, where we use high fidelity 360 photographs of a reconstruction developed in the UNREAL4 Game Engine. This allows the digital content to be hosted and displayed on mobile platforms and does not require the virtual reality viewer to be tethered to a bulky computer.

How is it applicable?

This research has been applied within The Virtual Time Binoculars (VTB) project and is a core component of the Smart History company founded by Dr Katie Stevenson and Dr Alan Miller. The VTB is a £105,000 Edinburgh Digital Launchpad project, funded by Innovate UK.

In VTB we are developing a digital reconstruction of pre-reformation Edinburgh. The Smart History team brings together a multi-disciplinary team of Computer Scientists, Digital Designers, Digital Media producers, Historians and Museum Professional. We have CAA approved drone pilots, Google approved 360 photographers and prize winning historians working together to create both engaging mobile onsite experiences.

The historical work has been conducted in consultation with Prof. Richard Fawcett and John Lawson Edinburgh City Council Historian. We have also worked with the National Trust for Scotland and the Timespan Museum and Gallery in developing the technology used in the app. We are working with Edinburgh City Museum to provide a permanent showcase for the project. The Medieval Edinburgh App will be launched at the start of May 2017, but you will be able to get the first public peak at this work at the IAA Showcase on March the 16th at St Andrews University. We expect the VTB to become a ‘must have’ part of the experience of visiting Edinburgh, which is at the heart of Scotland’s tourist industry.


Pre-reformation Edinburgh city scape


Wildlife conservation

Heatmaps showing the very different home ranges of 4 snow leopards, inferred from camera trap photos.

New methods for data-driven wildlife conservation

Prof. David Borchers, Dr Monique MacKenzie & Dr Len Thomas | School of Mathematics and Statistics

The Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling (CREEM) of the University of St Andrews is a world leader in developing statistical methods for ecological and environmental modelling. We are working with conservation organisations and government agencies in Africa and Asia to apply these methods, using new survey technologies, to meet the conservation and management aims of these organisations. Some examples are given below.

Using tagged vultures to detect rhino poaching in Africa

Two solar-powered vulture tags, shown next to a cup for scale.

Rhino poaching is a huge problem for nature reserves in Africa. Effective control measures rely on being able to monitor poaching activities, but it is very difficult to monitor large game reserves effectively. So we are enlisting vultures to help us. Being wide-ranging scavengers, vultures are very good at surveying large areas to detect recent kills. We are working with game parks in Namibia to use vultures as mobile poaching monitoring platforms. GPS tags with accellerometers are being attached to vultures, and statistical methods will be used to extract signature behaviours from the data generated by the tags, in order to identify when vultures are feeding on, or circling over carrion. In addition to extending monitoring capacity, this allows rangers’ interventions to be more directed and timeous. In the longer term, it will generate a database on poaching behaviour from which statistical analysis can extract patterns that may allow probabilistic prediction of future poaching events, and a more pre-emptive approach to managing poaching.

Using camera traps to manage snow leopard populations in Asia

Snow leopards are shy and secretive and notoriously difficult to survey. But the growth in use of camera traps is generating a new kind of data on this rare species, and larger volumes of data than it has been possible to gather before. Because every snow leopard has unique markings, we know which cameras detected each snow leopard and this can tell us something about their movement patterns and what determines this. Working with the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection Program, we are using camera trap data with methods that were developed in CREEM, to extract new kinds of information from the data – about snow leopard movement, distribution, abundance and habitat preference, all of which are crucial for developing effective conservation strategies for this elusive species.

Building wildlife survey capacity

Survey method training exercise for conservationists in Tanzania.

CREEM is working with conservation organisations in Africa and Asia to build capacity in statistical survey methods, in order to transfer the statistical knowledge developed at the University of St Andrews to the front line of conservation – where these methods have real impact on conservation, on wildlife management, and on the communities that are affected by wildlife tourism, conservation actions and poaching activities.