Let There Be Life: Bioengineering Comes Alive at Silicon Valley’s Tech Museum

by Sandeep Gupte

Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, San Jose’s Tech Museum welcomes tinkerers in all things electronic. Its latest exhibit takes this idea a step further, inviting visitors to play with the underpinnings of life itself.

The first bio-tinkering space in a U.S. museum, its BioDesign Studio lets visitors of all ages explore the intersection of engineering and biology by creating lifeforms from the building blocks of life. And it’s made vivid on a yawning 30-foot screen, powered by NVIDIA Quadro GPUs.

Visitors are guided through the process of creating a set of biological instructions for a living thing, using tangible pieces that serve as stand-ins for genes and genetic parts.

The end result resembles something you might see swimming under a microscope.

The creature is then “released” into an immersive, simulated environment of an arc-shaped screen running off 11 projectors. Thousands of creatures are designed by museum visitors each week.

“The features of biodesign are unique from any other type of design, and we wanted the exhibit experience to reflect that,” says Romie Littrell, project director at The Tech. “This space fills the visitor’s entire reality. We explored other AR and VR options, and this type of immersion was the high end of a multi-person VR environment.”

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Experience and software designers Local Projects, based in New York, relied on three NVIDIA Quadro M6000 GPUs to provide the speed and pixel density necessary for the live simulation to drive hundreds of creature combinations. The Quadro platform also featured NVIDIA VRWorks and NVIDIA Mosaic multi-display technologies technologies.

Because Mosaic recognizes the 11 projectors as one very large screen (with over 25 million pixels), a single workstation could drive the display – simplifying the development of content as well as the day-to-day operation of the system.

“To drive so many pixels on 11 screens, operating from a single workstation was the only option we had given the available dev time,” said Oriol Ferrer Mesià of Local Projects. “It would have been far too complicated to network such a complex simulation across several stations. And it meant much less development time to boot – we were up and running in five months. That literally wouldn’t have been possible without using NVIDIA Quadro.”