Juniors Collaborate with Danforth Plant Science Center

Four students collaborated with scientists at the Danforth Plant Science Center to create 3D plant models. Penny Chen ’23, Whitney Akred ’23, Nithya Reddy ’23, and Henry Byrne ’23 chose a species of plant currently under study at Danforth.

Chen worked with Dr. Kellogg and her team. They are interested in investigating the big bluestem spikelet, how fast it falls, and how far it might disperse when blown by the wind. “This contributes to an overall understanding of the underlying mechanisms of similar plants—like cereal crops in the grass family—to create more resilient crops and preserve the precious food resources that the Earth provides,” reported Chen. “By doing so, Dr. Kellogg’s research helps to work towards food security and zero hunger.”

The students used software called Fusion 360 to model the plants. They began by creating a more simple model: a coffee mug with a bamboo finish. This work allowed them to get familiar with the rendering software before moving on to create difficult plan models. They used feedback from the Danforth scientists to improve and refine their digital models.

Reddy said, “Through this project, I learned to apply 3D computer design skills to organic structures which I was very unfamiliar with. It was difficult to get the hang of a new skill like that, but I was able to learn more about designing with Fusion360 and the structure of Indiangrass spikelets by collaborating with my peers and scientists from the Danforth Plant Center.”

“It was really cool to do this project with a scientist who is actually currently studying the plant,” said Chen. “I felt like my work was really relevant, but it also put a lot of pressure on me to make it an accurate and working model that could be of use to the scientist, especially since I’d been emailing her.”

Chen worked with Nate Ly, an intern at the Danforth Plant Science Center who helped guide her through the modeling. “It was interesting learning a new 3D modeling platform, though it definitely had its challenges,” she said. “There were moments when I struggled with putting my vision into the computer. At one point, I was asking Nate for help and he showed me a new method for modeling/designing, so I just started over.”

“Before the scientist sent me some samples to look at, it was hard to understand the plant part. But when I looked at and dissected the samples under a microscope and understood the mechanics, it helped me see the importance of having these models in the first place,” said Chen.

Danforth Plant Center loaned MICDS several of their zSpace computers, allowing users to manipulate the models of the plants virtually. The zSpace AIO is a Windows-based computer with enhanced features allowing students to participate in an augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) learning experience.

What a wonderful collaboration to help students learn and help scientists discover new information!