The Nature of 3D – Lauren and Carson

In his video and throughout his readings, Alan Kay explains how user interface design is much more than making friendly interfaces or aesthetically pleasing designs for the computer screen like we see today. We take for granted the fact that user interface draw from the very roots of cognitive distribution and meaning making. In Microelectronics and Personal Computer Kay talks about two basic approaches to personal computing: “The first one which is analogous to musical improvisation, is exploratory: effects are caused in order to see what they are like and errors are tracked down, understood and fixed. The second, which resembles musical composition, calls for a great deal more of planning, generality, and structure.” This applies to Kay’s idea of utilizing doing, images, and symbols to build and learn. Lauren and I wanted to put Kay’s thoughts into a different lane. How can this was of thinking be used when talking about natural sciences, more specifically environmental science or zooarchaeology?

E.O. Wilson, the father of biogeography says in Letters to a Young Scientist, “Everyone sometimes daydreams like a scientist at one level or another … fantasies are the fountainhead of all creative thinking. The images evoked are at first vague. They may shift in form and fade in and out. They grow a bit firmer when sketched as diagrams on pads of paper, and they take on life as real examples are sought and found.” Dr. Wilson’s book goes on to say that all discoveries are first fantasies and in many ways these fantasies are very visual and the process of making these fantasies is the foundation for new science. In this respect, the future of coding or designing in digital spaces is a new frontier for creative thinking. In simulations, there is also the making process that can lead to new questions and discovery. Today, the affordances of free and open access 3D modeling software is changing the realm of discovery and exploration in science. It allows for the creation of something that one can then look at from many different angles and in making comes method through both process and completion.


For example, I experimented within several 3D modeling software programs including 123D Design and MeshMixer. In the process of making a 3D model of a sea anemone, questions arose about the structure and anatomy of the species itself. A 2­D image of a white sea anemone provided the basis for the creation. In the first trial of making the anemone (Image 1), the 3D object was turned and I noticed that my concept of the anemone still existed in a 2­D space because I only edited the piece on a flat plane.

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In the second trial (Image 2), I had to use my imagination and begin seeing the 2­D photo as if it was in a 3D.

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Finally, the finished version (Image 3) attempted to look like the photograph from a front flat view but then take into consideration how the sizing of each arm would be spaced from each other and how some sections were anatomically different than others.

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The playful nature I had to adopt for this creation aided in my own understanding of the potential anatomy of the sea anemone. I had to edit and reedit the piece to make sure it was physically possible but also resembled the picture I was given. In this context, we see making as method for I began asking new and complex questions about both the anatomy of the animal as well as the affordances of the software program. While this was just a personal experiment exploring software programs, I learned a lot about how my visual and spacial brain operated. I think that this is an exercise that could be beneficial for the development of “non­normal science” education. If ecologists and technologist are looking for a paradigm shift, it could be of their interest to allow more making and fantasy into curriculums and methods. Making instead of just seeing an image of the anemone caused me to ask more internal questions about how this animal might eat, grow, and breathe. The future of 3D modeling can combine the use of fantasy and new making in 123d Design and Meshmixer with the use of other softwares like 123d Catch that would copy and recreate exact dimensions of objects.


While I was at VCU I worked in the Virtual Curation Lab. There we would scan, replicate and print any kind of artifact we could get our hands on. This included some faunal remains. I did lots of work with 3D modeling at zooarchaeology. I preferred working with animal remains, because I felt like not only was I learning about the process of 3D modeling, I was also forced to learn the osteology of different north american animals. Sometimes I would print out the different structures and paint them to look like real bone (I will bring some stuff I have in) to be used in small exhibits around campus. Other times I would play around and try to create a frankenstein like 3D model of whatever animal I was working on, by taking bones from other similar animals (or the same species)  to try and create a full skeleton. Then I would sometimes think about what this animal would look like if it was real. For example, once I almost put together a whole raccoon skeleton by filling in with opossum bones where stuff was missing. I named it “Raccopossum” and kind of pictured an all grey raccoon with a long opossum tail. Also doing this it forced me to ask myself questions like, Would Raccopossum be a marsupial? Would it be able to stand on its hind legs at times like Raccoons can? Well obviously it would be a good climber… and so on. I do not think this symbiotic process would not have occurred without the availability of 3D modeling.  




Kay, Alan C. “Microelectronics and the Personal Computer.” Scientific American 237, no. 3 (September 1977): 230-44.

Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg, “Personal Dynamic Media” (1977), excerpt from The New Media Reader, ed. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort. Originally published in Computer10(3):31–41, March 1977.

Alan Kay’s original paper on the Dynabook concept: “A Personal Computer for Children of all Ages.” Palo Alto, Xerox PARC, 1972).

Wilson, Edward O. Letters to a Young Scientist. New York: Liveright Corporation, a Division of W.W. Norton, 2013.