Futuristic Technology Reproduces Ancient Structure

temple12.jpgStudents in Anathea Portier-Young’s Old Testament class recently used some of the planet’s most futuristic technology to study one of its most ancient biblical structures -- all within a few hundred yards of the Divinity School.

With a grant of about $3,300 from Duke University’s Center for Instructional Technology, Portier-Young led a project in which students in computer science and engineering adapted 3-D models to build a full-surround virtual reality experience of the reconstructed Temple of Solomon. Divinity students viewed the model in the Duke Immersive Virtual Environment (DIVE) tank at the Fitzpatrick Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, Medicine and Applied Sciences.

The DIVE tank is a 12'x12'x12' chamber in which users, wearing 3-D glasses, experience virtual reality projection on all six surfaces around, above and below them. Divinity students were guided through the temple complex -- traditionally dated to the 10th century BCE -- as though physically present: exploring various chambers, climbing stairs and ramps, and ascending for an aerial view.

Students “toured” the temple in small groups, each for about 30 minutes, and then convened for discussion, said Portier-Young, assistant professor of Old Testament.

“They focused on questions such as how the virtual temple experience helped them to appreciate the otherness of the biblical world, how they might come to appreciate the significance of sacred space and symbolization, and how the detailed descriptions of the temple (and tabernacle) spaces might themselves serve as a virtual temple for diaspora Jews,” she said.

Students in the class said they were impressed with the technology and its application.

“The experience in the DIVE tank created a powerful visual context to better understand our Old Testament studies,” said Leslie Nambo, M.Div. ’09. “Now that I've experienced the Temple, I can go back and study the Old Testament with a renewed sense of relevance and enthusiasm.”

Portier-Young was so pleased with the results that she invited other Divinity School faculty members to take the tour as well and consider whether they might adapt the technology for use in other classes. Not only did the DIVE tank offer great educational opportunities, she added, but it also was great fun for her and the students.

“The final product is way cool,” she said.