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Where the Art Is: New App by NJIT Biology Professor Places Famous Paintings Where They Were Originally Created

Gareth Russell

Did you ever wonder if you could pinpoint the original locations where your favorite paintings were created—or if they still exist? A new app developed by NJIT Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Gareth Russell can help users “see” through the eyes of Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, and other noted artists the scenery that inspired their work.

Accessed as a channel in the free Junaio app for iOS and Android devices, ArtScape uses augmented reality (AR) to place virtual easels with paintings on them into the landscape at the estimated locations of their viewpoints. 

“AR refers to the placement of information or virtual objects so that they appear to be part of the landscape near a user,” Russell explains. “The project stemmed from an interest in using AR as an Environmental User Interface (EUI), to provide a window into the hidden environmental processes that surround and support us.” 

Users of the app can “touch” paintings to enlarge them to a full-screen view for a better comparison, and to follow links to learn out more about them. The database is populated by crowdsourcing; users can contribute views by estimating latitudes and longitudes and upload providing links to publicly available images.

TimeScape, a related app that is currently being developed by Russell, allows users to view the present-day scenes shown in historical photos. Other projects in development make trees appear interactive so that users can learn about their ecology and the services they are providing, such as oxygen production, in real time.

Russell’s research is driven by an interest in how organisms survive on, and adapt to, the increasingly fragmented, multi-use landscapes that humans create. This interest manifests itself in a number of studies of movement dynamics, from how birds in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil persist (or not) in the remaining patches of forest, to the way in which the movements of radio-collared African Elephants reveal which landscape characteristics they prefer. Russell is also interested in new technologies that can help answer such questions, from new tracking devices to cameras with automated recognition software, and in new ways to communicate ecological knowledge to decision makers and to the general public.

For more information on the ArtScape app, visit http://www.art-scape.net/about.html.