UAF Museum creating new virtual reality exhibit

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska - The UA Museum of the North has less than one percent of their collection on display in their gallery but that may soon change as they work on a virtual reality exhibit allowing people to interact with fragile cultural artifacts. They are using this pilot project to see how virtual reality could best be utilized by the museum.

A data visualization specialist at Alaska's Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, also known as EPSCoR, is working with curators at the museum to photograph and create virtual images of artifacts from their collections.

"To see this idea of preserving objects and moving them into this environment and being able to interact with them in a different way, felt like it was a cohesive way to connect all the different skills I have been working on," said Cassidy Phillips, data visualization specialist at EPSCoR.

Angela Linn, senior collections manager of the ethnology and history department at the museum, said museums have to find a balance between preserving items while also providing the important information the item holds to the public and that a virtual reality project like this could create more access to the community.

"It provides an opportunity for people to interact with the object even when we have really fragile items, which physically, just because of the nature of the material, working in a virtual environment, allows people to manipulate those objects to handle them to interact with them in a different way," said Linn.

Linn says having these items available virtually can allow people to connect to items from their culture, which they may have never seen before. "This is a child's gut parka, used as a rain coat, for a very young Yup'ik child, it's made out of strips of seal intestine."

A weevil was also photographed and amplified so that a viewer can see the weevil up close and inspect it in the virtual exhibit. You can hold a light to an object, teleport to dig sites and even grow yourself as high as the ceiling.

While providing more access to these important artifacts, they're keeping them safe and preserved for future generations. Although they do not have an opening date set yet, the museum hopes to have the virtual exhibit available this summer.