Sociology department unveils new augmented reality window

The Department of Sociology has redesigned a glass case on the third floor of Uris Hall with Augmented Reality (AR) to represent the wide field of sociology. The redesign was a collaborative exploration involving student researchers, staff and faculty.

“I have always loved these kinds of small recess spaces, reserved for showcasing a department's contributions to the University and science in general,” said Benjamin Cornwell, professor and chair of sociology. “But we have never figured out how to use ours. The goal ultimately was to describe the breadth and scope of the sociology department’s research.”

The redesign was led by Paulina Velazquez Solis, a visual artist who works as a communication and programming assistant for the sociology department. The installation was conceived as a multistage project, with a physical component and an AR experience.

The first stage of the process was the installation of a mobile-like tridimensional representation of the interrelationship of the different research areas in the sociology department. The areas are represented in laser-cut acrylic discs; their color and size relate to the research area, with wooden bars connecting the areas where more people are working in those fields. Strings are used to show connections between sociology fields that are more unique.

The second part of the project introduces an AR experience that shows content related to the different areas. Because the field of sociology is so broad, Velazquez Solis wanted to include students in the project, “to parse out the information and bring in their vision and experience of what is sociology to them, and have that material be the starting point for the Augmented Reality experience,” she explained.

In response, Cornwell introduced an independent study course where students could do the research and work on the development of the AR experience with Velazquez Solis.

“We were fortunate in having two brilliant sociology students – Chukwudumebi Obi ‘23 and Carolyn Chun ’22 – and Paulina Velázquez Solís, a professional artist, to guide us in the design of this installation,” said Cornwell. “They made great use of the independent study mechanism to spend the semester learning how to blend art with science, literally. They learned new things about different areas of sociology, and we all learned about new technologies for displaying scientific information. This could not have been a more productive collaboration.”

“I have always heard about AR and learned about it in information science classes, but I never got to really engage with it myself. I am also an artistic person and enjoy using my creativity for designing for different audiences and was really interested in combining art, technology, and sociology,” said Chun, a sociology major with a minor in information science. “I really enjoyed the freedom I was given to explore different topics within each of the 13 areas and even bring what I have learned at my time at Cornell to the project.”

Obi, a sociology major with a minor in data science and a student in the Milstein Program, has an interest in 3D design and modeling and videogames. “The breadth of the project exposed me to different aspects of creating art, in this case, AR experiences for the public,” he said. "This project allowed to apply the findings of my research, demo my work, and engage with people who are unfamiliar with both sociology and AR which is really cool because it is something I have never done before. Additionaly, the project has taught me the importance of patience - working with cutting-edge technology often produces results I did not expect at first, but continually working with my team over the semester, and recognizing my limits, has helped a lot.”

A first AR experience of what the design team has named the “Socioverse” is viewable on the third floor in Uris Hall and online. Over time, other versions will be developed, said Velazquez Solis, offering different paths to explore sociology, based on the material that resulted from the independent study course -- “emphasizing the nature of digital and sociology content that can be dynamic and ever-changing,” she said.

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