Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt Museum Honors Media Arts Project

April 23, 2021

ButtARfly image prototype

ButtARfly Web App Prototype

Las Vegas, N.M. – The New Mexico Highlands University Media Arts and Technology Department received an award from the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt museum for an interactive web app that will generate 3-D butterflies for mobile phones or computers.

The 3-D web app model created by a team of Highlands media arts faculty is called ButtARfly because it employs augmented reality. Only seven projects in the United States were honored in the Activating Smithsonian Open Access Challenge.

According to the Cooper Hewitt Museum, Highlands University’s media arts’ ButtARfly experience will, “…render 2-D images of butterflies from the Smithsonian open access collections into a 3-D format that invites users to learn more, while offering a delightful augmented reality interaction.”

Jonathan Lee, a Software System Design (SSD) professor in media arts, developed the project along with Rianne Trujillo, also an SSD faculty member, Miriam Langer, Media Arts and Technology Department chair, and Lauren Addario, another media arts faculty member.

“Augmented reality is computer-generated imagery placed into a user’s camera feed, so it looks like digital objects exist in the world around them when viewed through their phone or computer,” Lee said. “We pitched a project to use the Smithsonian’s collection of butterfly specimens. These are imagers which we will turn into 3-D models and allow users to inspect, collect and animate butterflies using augmented reality.

“Our project is called ButtARfly because we plan to release butterflies into the user’s camera feed, giving them an augmented reality experience and bringing these scientific butterfly specimens to life,” Lee said.

Lee said the Smithsonian’s open-source media collection includes artifacts and resources from across the Smithsonian network of museums.

“We chose butterflies for our project because they have interesting variation, design and color. When tested, the 3-D ButtARfly prototype was feasible and aesthetically pleasing,” Lee said.

Lee said users will be able to access the ButtARfly web app on their mobile phones or their computers in late July.

Lee is the coordinator of Highlands University’s Software Systems Design program within the Media Arts and Technology Department.

“This Software Systems Design program prepares our graduates for a career in the software development field by giving them a wide breadth of knowledge with multiple programming languages and practical experience with clients through internships,” Lee said.