3D visualisation and artistic imagery to enhance interest in ‘hidden environments’ – new approaches to soil science

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    Interactive Virtual Environments (VEs) have the potential to increase student interest in soil science. Accordingly a bespoke ‘soil atlas’ was created using Java3D as an interactive 3D VE, to show soil information in the context of (and as affected by) the over-lying landscape. To display the below-ground soil characteristics, four sets of artistic illustrations were produced, each set showing the effects of soil organic-matter density and water content on fungal density, to determine potential for visualisations and interactivity in stimulating interest in soil and soil illustrations, interest being an important factor in facilitating learning. The illustrations were created using 3D modelling packages, and a wide range of styles were produced. This allowed a preliminary study of the relative merits of different artistic styles, scientific-credibility, scale, abstraction and ‘realism’ (e.g. photo-realism or realism of forms), and any relationship between these and the level of interest indicated by the study participants in the soil visualisations and VE. The study found significant differences in mean interest ratings for different soil illustration styles, as well as in the perception of scientific-credibility of these styles, albeit for both measures there was considerable difference of attitude between participants about particular styles. There was also found to be a highly significant positive correlation between participants rating styles highly for interest and highly for scientific-credibility. There was furthermore a particularly high interest rating among participants for seeing temporal soil processes illustrated/animated, suggesting this as a particularly promising method for further stimulating interest in soil illustrations and soil itself.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)467-482
    Number of pages16
    JournalEuropean Journal of Engineering Education
    Issue number5
    Early online date1 Aug 2013
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


    • Virtual environments
    • Soil sustainability
    • Soil education
    • Artistic representation
    • Information visualisation
    • 3D visualisation


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