The Cell

The Cell is an immersive, interactive, room-sized installation of an E.Coli cell housed in the University of Colorado Boulder’s ATLAS Institute.

The inspiration for this project was to make a fun, visually engaging, and explorative educational experience. Upon entering the room, visitors are stepping inside of an E-coli cell and can touch, play, and interact with the different elements of the cell. The Cell contains large strands of interactive DNA that you can “unzip” by separating nucleotide pairs.

A close-up of a DNA strand from The Cell A close-up of a DNA strand from The Cell

Two close-ups of DNA strands from The Cell installation.

As visitors separate the nucleotide pairs, the bases of the pair – A, G, C, and T – are revealed and denoted by color. Visitors can also pick up pieces of RNA off the floor and attach it to the strands of DNA to create different RNA sequences.

The construction of this project involved carpentry, scultpure, laser cutting, programming physical computing technologies to add interactivity, sound design, and more. The DNA nucleotide pairs are connected by magnets and copper tape to provide enough resistance that visitors must pull apart the strands, and so that the microcontrollers can detect which pairs are connected and unzipped at any given moment.

A timelapse video showing the construction of The Cell.

Throughout the design and development of this installation we built several small-scale prototypes to assess the feasability of different materials and interaction mechanisms.