Virtual time travel through pre-reformation Edinburgh

In “A View from a Hill”, a ghost story by M. R. James, an archaeologist’s binoculars allows them to see scenes from the past. The Edinburgh 1544 project enables visitors and residents of Edinburgh to see the city as it was just prior to the reformation.

We use mobile phones and the Google Daydream platform to deliver an onsite dual reality experience. As visitors explore the sites of Edinburgh, they can see into the past using their digital time travel binoculars. The app is mobile and orientation aware, automatically delivering the correct view. A map interface allows an engaging experience for remote virtual visitors as well.

The binoculars app enables the user experience to be optimised for technology they already have in their pockets.
  • It makes virtual time travel a reality and available to mass audiences. 
  • It provides a new way of interacting with the past that both enriches the visitor experience and provides insights into the past not otherwise readily available.  

What is the research? 
The VTB design draws upon EPSRC-funded research at the University of St Andrews into dual reality systems where the virtual and real worlds occupy the same space. Position and orientation within the two worlds are synchronised enabling intuitive exploration of both worlds through movement in the real world. The Smart History team investigated dual reality systems through exploring inside (St Salvators Chapel) and outside (St Andrews Cathedral) using modified Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard VR headsets. This led them to observe that users tended to look around whilst using the headsets.

Observation of users led the researchers to a viewpoint-oriented approach, where high fidelity 360 photographs of a reconstruction were used and developed in the UNREAL4 Game Engine. This allowed the digital content to be hosted and displayed on mobile platforms and does not require the virtual reality viewer to be tethered to a bulky computer.

How is it applicable? 
Pre-reformation Edinburgh Netherbow
This research has been applied within The Virtual Time Binoculars (VTB) project and is a core component of the Smart History company founded by Dr Katie Stevenson from the School of History and Dr Alan Miller from the School of Computer Science. The VTB is a Edinburgh Digital Launchpad project funded by Innovate UK.

In VTB the team developed a digital reconstruction of pre-reformation Edinburgh. The Smart History team brings together a multi-disciplinary team of Computer Scientists, Digital Designers, Digital Media producers, Historians and Museum Professional. They have CAA-approved drone pilots, Google-approved 360 photographers and prize-winning historians working together to create engaging mobile onsite experiences.

The historical work has been conducted in consultation with Prof. Richard Fawcett of the School of Art History and John Lawson, a Edinburgh City Council Historian. They also worked with the National Trust for Scotland and the Timespan Museum and Gallery in developing the technology used in the app. They have worked with Edinburgh City Museum to provide a permanent showcase for the project.

The Medieval Edinburgh App was launched at the start of May 2017. It is expected that the VTB will become a ‘must have’ part of the experience of visiting Edinburgh.
View reconstructions
More information


The use of creative art for explaining organic semiconductors

Nedyalka Panova is an artist-in-residence inthe School of Physics & Astronomy. Her work explores the boundaries between art and science, organic and inorganic, natural, synthetic and manmade. Nedyalka works in collaboration with the Organic Semiconductor Centre led by Prof. Ifor Samuel on “The use of creative art for explaining organic semiconductors”. The purpose of the project was to give a higher visibility to the interesting phenomenon of organic semiconductors using their aesthetic values.

Interdisciplinary collaboration such as this, between artists and scientists, brings together experts from different fields. The result is art exhibitions which provide a different way for the public to access or connect with the science.

While the concept of the colours and shapes of natural materials have inspired artists in their studies of nature for centuries, progress by scientists in material science has created a new range of synthetic materials which are manufactured in entirely different ways. In this context, contemporary art and science start asking new questions, such as:
  • How can art respond to the colours that are invisible to visible light? 
  • How can invisible 2-D imprinted patterns be used as colours and structures? 

The line between the past and the future modern technological world is drawn with a nanoscale precision and the question is:
  • Are these new technological tools also a new media for creative endeavours? 
Organic semiconductors combine properties of both metals and organic polymers with their capacity to conduct electricity. This opens new doors for applications in light communication, organic LED displays, healthcare and harvesting energy from abundant natural sources such as sunlight. Their general target is to offer an alternative solution to the existing inorganic electronic components or to combine the best of both worlds in a new generation of hybrid devices.

Arabidopsis Thaliana seed germination used for explosive sensing.
Image: Nedyalka Panova (2016)


PHASE 1: University and secondary school research collaboration

Maneesh Kuruvilla
In the summer of 2016, Maneesh Kuruvilla, a Postgraduate Researcher in the School of Psychology & Neuroscience, won the St Andrews final of Three Minute Thesis and was awarded £500 to run a public engagement with research project.

This is what he did.....
I came up with the idea of PHASE 1, a Platform for Honing and Accelerating Scientific Excellence aimed at introducing my passion for research to students at Madras College. Through PHASE 1, I hope to not only equip students with research skills for university but to also encourage future cohorts of school students to take up Higher Psychology courses.

I pitched my idea to the Depute Head Teacher and Higher Psychology Teacher at Madras College, a local secondary school in St Andrews.What makes Madras College unique is that it offers students a Higher Psychology course. Students who take this course must conduct their own psychology research projects.

Over several months I went into the Higher Psychology classes and delivered modules on various aspects of research fundamentals, design and methodology. We then selected students who had expressed a desire to pursue Psychology at university. The students worked in two groups and chose their research areas of interest, designed studies, formulated hypotheses and collected data by recruiting their peers to participate in their experiments.

Over a six-week period, these students were then invited to the School of Psychology and Neuroscience and spent over 10 hours analysing and interpreting their data and preparing 8-minute presentations and academic conference-style posters.

At the closing event, the students, who had been mentored by throughout the project, presented two 8-minute talks on the research projects and presented posters of their projects over tea and coffee. ​

The main objective of this outreach programme was to give school students a breath of research experience at a university level and, in this regard, PHASE 1 has been an unquestionable success. To put things in perspective:
  1. The basic research fundamentals and types of analyses the students have performed with their data is at par with First Year Psychology undergraduates. 
  2. The use of SPSS statistical package to analyse data is at par with Second Year undergrads. 
  3. The ability to visually represent data in the form of a poster is comparable to Junior Honours level. And to receive supervision and give a presentation on one’s own research project is Senior Honors level and above. 

The sold-out event took place at the Byre Theatre in front of close to 100 audience members made up of staff and students from The University of St Andrews and Madras College as well as the general public.

Student presenters
PHASE 1 also featured guest talks by Professor Dave Perrett, Dr Jamie Ainge and Dr Maggie Ellis from the School of Psychology & Neuroscience.

We were pleased to welcome Professor Sally Mapstone (Principal and Vice Chancellor, University of St Andrews), Professor Keith Sillar (Head of School, Psychology & Neuroscience) and Mr David McClure (Rector, Madras College) at the inaugural edition of PHASE 1.

Student Presenters: Aeonie Ramsay, Ross Lavin, Till Sprengelmeyer, Arin Beaver and Jack Laird Mentors: Maneesh Kuruvilla (PhD Student, University of St Andrews); Brianna Vandrey (PhD Student, University of St Andrews); Dr Akira O'Connor (Lecturer, University of St Andrews); Mrs Catherine O'Donnell (Higher Psychology Teacher, Madras College)


Cultural Enrichment of the Indigenous Peoples of Peru

Dr Hyland peering at the alphabetic/khipu text
(known as a khipu board)
Dr Sabine Hyland's fieldwork in the Andes has led to the first decipherment of a structural element on khipus (the ancient Andean writing system using knotted cords) in almost 100 years!

A khipu is a series of coloured, knotted strings made out of various animal fur and fabric. In the past, scholars claimed that khipus were not an example of writing and that they were merely used as memory aides which recorded only numbers.

Funded by National Geographic, Dr. Hyland journeyed to a remote Andean village to study a unique hybrid alphabetic/khipu text. Her fieldwork has provided proof to an alternative theory that khipus conveyed more complex meaning and could be linked to a form of writing.

Dr Hyland's research has led to various outcomes including a book, The Chankas and the Priest (Penn State Press 2016), the first historical study of the Chankas ever written. In the words of the Director of Tourism and Culture for this region of Peru, her "book is the first publication which addresses Chanka history using primary source material. As a result, for the first time we can see our ancestors humanised - no longer 'enemies of the Inka' or 'bellicose warriors'. Dr Hyland’s research and publications give us a fuller sense of who we are as a people, and of the importance of valorizing, preserving, and celebrating the Peruvian cultural heritage.

In the process, Dr Hyland has not only helped the people of Peru learn about anthropology and the importance of cultural patrimony but has trained and inspired many Peruvian students to have successful careers in tourism, history, archaeology, and related fields... we are also using her data to design exhibits for a new museum that is opening in Andahuaylas City this year."

Her research on the ancient khipus has been featured in governmental publications for school children, distributed into every school and library of the Cusco region (pop = 2 million).

Trailer for the National Geographic series, Ancient X Files,
Season Two, Episode 3, Decoding the Incas

Dr Hyland's research on khipus was made into a National Geographic documentary for the Ancient X Files series, called Decoding the Incas. In the research for this film, she was able to decipher the meaning of several elements on khipus, the first such decipherment in 100 years. Since viewing her film, leaders of other indigenous villages have invited Dr Hyland to study their khipus, previously kept secret from outsiders. The Indian authorities of one such community, Collata, have recently thanked her for "helping them to gain invaluable insights into the worth and meaning of their cultural heritage".

To read more: http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/stories/2016/the-chankas/

Dr Hyland's research will feature on an episode about Machu Picchu on the Discovery Channel's series 'Unearthed'.

More about Sabine's research is available on:
Current Anthropology/ Wenner Gren: "Cracking the Khipu Code: First Phonetic Inka Writing Found" http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/journals/ca/pr/170419

The National Geographic: "Discovery May Help Decipher Ancient Inca String Code" http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/04/inca-khipus-code-discovery-peru/

Discover Magazine: "Untangling the Ancient Inca Code of Strings" http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2017/04/19/khipu-code-inca-language/#.WPeOwbvyuqQ

Dr Hyland, of the Department of Social Anthropology, conducted ethnohistorical and ethnographic research on the Chanka people of Peru which was funded by the NSF, the NEH and the Mellon Foundation.


Music Planet - exploring research through music

Music Planet explores the broadest concepts of Environment and Music. The series will draw on academic research across all disciplines from arts to social science and science to present new concepts that have an impact on all society. The series will present the research messages with reflections made through the performing arts from classical through to new contemporary music. From the comfort of the well-known to explorations in improvisation with both traditional and new composition Music Planet will challenge you to think deeper about life and your planet.

Throughout the centuries, artists have used their chosen media to reflect on nature and human reaction to it. From personal experiences to depictions of catastrophic events works have been created to try and bring sense to natural environments and our place within them. Music Planet takes its theme from these reflections. It will present a series of performance events to reflect on environment in its broadest sense. Some events will focus on Environment in terms of natural elements such as climate and societies response to changes in climate others will explore societal attempts to control environments.

Each event is co-presented by artists together with groups of academics from the arts, social sciences and sciences in order to allow relevant aspects of academic research to be explored. The events are designed to be co-participatory with public audience becoming engaged with the delivery of the event. Before, during and after each event there will be on-line information for exploring further the academic research story behind the events.

Music Planet grew out of an idea that Dr Richard Bates had to perform some of the late Sir Peter Maxwell Davis’ works and link into climate research being conducted by the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences. Sir Peter was an active campaigner on climate issues and cared passionately about the environment of his adopted homeland, Orkney. His music often explores sounds from natural environments and provides an inspiration to us all. From early discussions with the Music Centre at St Andrews and, in particular with the enthusiasm of Michael Downes, Jill Craig and Bede Williams, Music Planet was born.

The ever growing list of individuals involved in Music Planet include staff at the Music Centre, several Schools at the University of St Andrews, as well as some external organisations.

For a full listing of events, click here.


TheoArtistry: The power of the arts to communicate the divine

TheoArtistry is a new dimension of the work of ITIA, the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts, based in the School of Divinity. Directed by Dr George Corbett, TheoArtistry explores how ITIA’s research at the interface between theology and the arts might inform directly the making, practice, performance, curatorship and reception of Christian art, and transform not only the scholarly but the public perception of the role and the vital importance of the arts today in theology, Church practice, and society at large.

In TheoArtistry’s inaugural project, six outstanding young composers (from England, Scotland, Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland, and Canada) have been selected, from almost a hundred applicants, to work with Sir James MacMillan, Dr George Corbett, Kathryn Wehr, and six doctoral researchers from the School of Divinity, at the University of St Andrews. Over a six-month scheme running from September 2016-February 2017, theologians and composers are collaborating on six new choral works for non-professional chapel choir of approximately 3 minutes in length. The composers’ Scriptural settings will be performed by St Salvator’s Chapel Choir (directed by Tom Wilkinson) at a second symposium with Sir James at the end of New Music Week on 19 February 2017, and again by the choir during the liturgical year.

Sir James MacMillan, composers, theologians, Divinity and Music staff
at the TheoArtistry Symposium
Dr George Corbett and ITIA researchers are also teaming up with Tom Wilkinson and St Salvator’s Chapel Choir to produce a new TheoArtistry CD recording. This collaborative project explores how an appreciation of the profound spirituality and faith of many composers in the Classical tradition may influence the performance and reception of their music. ITIA is providing expertise on the relationship between theology and music, research on the theological contexts of the musical programme, as well as help curating secular and liturgical performances by the choir.


EU-LAC-MUSEUMS: Museums and Community: Concepts, Experiences and Sustainability in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean

Dr Karen Brown

Museums can provide vital services to their communities, providing under-represented people with a chance to stake a place in history, as well as contributing to sustainability, community empowerment and links between generations. Dr Karen Brown, Lecturer in the School of Art History and Museum and Gallery Studies and Director of the University’s Museum and Galleries Collections Institute, is leading a new EU-funded project exploring the role that small, community-run museums play in their communities. The EU-LAC-MUSEUMS project will run from 2016 to 2020, and investigate rural community museums in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. It will bring together researchers from Scotland, Portugal, Spain, Costa Rica, Chile, Peru, and the West Indies. The project has received funding from Horizon2020, the EU’s biggest ever research and innovation programme.

Over the next four years, the international team of academics will investigate how rural, community-run museums can inform museum practice, particularly for remote and island locations. Two of the museums involved are Ceumannan-Skye Ecomuseum in Scotland, and the Rey Curré Museo Comunitario in Costa Rica, which is run by the native Boruca people. Both of these community museums are open air, and encourage visitors to explore the natural landscapes and traditional structures. It is hoped that the project will allow both academics and the public to better understand the benefits of, and challenges facing, such geographically isolated museums.

Dr Catherine Spencer
As well as academic work, the EU-LAC-MUSEUMS project will hold a youth exchange, bringing young people from each region together to work on an oral history project with community elders. This project will allow young people to engage with their society’s history, explore other cultures, gain skills in research techniques and IT, and learn to work effectively in a culturally diverse team. Community museum members will in addition produce a Virtual Exhibition with the help of St Andrew’s Open Virtual Worlds (www.openvirtualworlds.org). Some preliminary results from our first workshop in Shetland involving Alan Miller, Iain Oliver, Catherine Cassidy and Karen Brown can be seen here: https://sketchfab.com/models/cf20d43bd5e948c0bb53d82662ad30b9.

The project will also see the creation of an exhibition of Caribbean Contemporary Art on the theme of migration, curated by an international team including Dr Karen Brown, Dr Catherine Spencer (School of Art History), Dr Alissandra Cummins (University of the West Indies) and Verle Poupeye (National Gallery of Jamaica). This exhibition will tour the Caribbean and Europe from 2017 to 2020, including representation in the 2019 Venice Biennale.

A major partner in the EU-LAC-MUSEUMS project is ICOM (the International Council of Museums (www.icom.museum). Working with this organisation will allow the project to reach ICOM’s 35,000 members in 136 countries. The project will also reach the public through the Youth Exchange, exhibition and a website hosting all research output of the project, as well as audio-visual content and 3D models of museum objects. The project website will be available at http://eulacmuseums.net/. 

EU-LAC-MUSEUMS: This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 693669.