The Living Cell



Production / Professional


Gert Franke, Thomas Clever, Wilco Tomassen, Gijs Roest, Jan Hoogeveen


Background of the project
Worldwide, there are few research institutes that focus exclusively on the aging process and human cells. That is why the UMCG and the University of Groningen invest in the European Research Institute on the Biology of Ageing (ERIBA). CLEVER°FRANKE developed for them a visualisation of a tiny human cell and made it large and tangible.

The idea of the ‘Living Cell’ was born. An interactive installation as part of an exhibition space in the ERIBA.

The Living Cell delivers, by means of interactive visualization, a tribute to the miraculous genomics research and the recent discoveries made by ERIBA. This installation shows the various components and processes of a human cell and makes it accessible to everyone.

  • What happens if a cell ages and its DNA starts to contain errors?
  • How does a cell react to bad external influences?
  • How does the cell store energy?


All visitors to the ERIBA can broaden their knowledge about something invisible to the naked eye. The visualization of a human cell in the Living Cell depicts the findings from the study of the ERIBA, increases insight for every visitor and encourages interaction in a playful way.


Research phase
After formulating the concrete communicative message we performed substantive research into the subject.

  • How many types of human cells are there and what do they look like?
  • Which parts are relevant for the visualization and which are not?
  • What are the functions of all the parts, what do we call them and what is our freedom for visual interpretation?

Concept phase
Using the expertise of various biologists and several sketch sessions to determine a number of scenarios, we developed a visual style and determined patterns of interaction.

The first version was controlled via buttons on a panel and we tested this at a festival. This gave us a lot of information about how an audience interacts with complex, unknown information like processes in a human cell.

Based on this information, we decided the audience was too passive and needed to interact directly with the cell. We decided to let the audience into the cell to track their motion. In addition, we brought more focus on the visual language for simplification and we put descriptive texts to accompany the cell processes.


For motion tracking, we tried different techniques, but soon found that no out-of-the-box solution could be found. Ultimately, we chose to use a Microsoft Kinect camera which allows you to see moving objects by means of infrared light depth images. Visitors who walk through the cell can therefore influence it directly as if they are part of the cell. The interaction was dependent on the combination of camera and projector. We needed to project an area of ​​20m2 agree. With only relatively simple means at our disposal, and without the existence of a proper software solution, this proved technically difficult to realize. Eventually experiments led to writing custom software and a correct adjustment of the Kinect camera regarding the projector. Realisation The Living Cell is designed as a serious game (simulation). We did not make use of recorded movies; every lifecycle of the cell is unique. For the graphical implementation we developed an OpenGL application, including hardware routines (shaders) for special effects such as dynamic fluids. We therefore chose to write a so-called particle-physics system to let every part of the cell react to the other parts and the visitor. It was also important that the final application would


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