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David Salt is 'worth his salt,' says Science magazine

American Society of Plant Biologists members Professor David Salt (Purdue University) and Tommy Sors (Purdue University) along with Jeremy Friedberg (Spongelab) have been awarded First Place in the Interactive Media category of the Science magazine 2008 Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge. The winning project is an interactive biology gaming module called the Genomics Digital Lab (GDL).

The Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge is a highly competitive annual competition funded by NSF to encourage researchers to bring to life the amazing array of data available in all areas of science by using images, illustrations, computer graphics, and animations. Entries must provide inspiring yet painstakingly accurate imagery since visual media is critically integral to promoting public understanding of important scientific concepts as well as for facilitating communication among the various scientific disciplines.

The GDL game module proved its worth amid a strong field of competitors representing all of the scientific disciplines. The 200+ entries from 34 states and 23 countries were carefully screened by Science and NSF staff members. Then an outside panel of experts in scientific visualization (see side bar) selected the winners and honorable mentions in each category. Full details of the competition are available at

"We're delighted that the first-place visualization challenge award by Science for interactive media went to the ASPB Education Foundation's GAP-supported project for public education on plant genomics," commented Education Foundation Chair James Siedow of Duke University. "Congratulations to David, Tommy and their colleagues for this important recognition of their novel and effective approach to plant science education outreach. I want to thank our contributors and the ASPB Executive Committee who made this grant support possible in cooperation with the National Science Foundation. This first-place award from Science is another example demonstrating how ASPB member plant scientists can explore new frontiers in plant science education with the help of a funding source, such as the Foundation," Siedow added.

David Salt collaborated with Tommy Sors (Purdue University) and Jeremy Friedberg (Spongelab) to develop the Genomics Digital Lab (GDL) as part of a larger Genomics Explorer museum exhibit. Salt's interactive, walk-through plant cell exhibit was co-funded through the 2005 ASPB Education Foundation Grant Awards Program (GAP) and NSF.

Science has now affirmed that GDL is a valuable resource in and of itself. Salt reports, "We used one-third of our GAP award to subcontract Spongelab (then known as vivetechnologies) to program GDL based on a design from Tommy Sors. The agreement between Spongelab and Purdue was that Purdue could use the original GDL free for educational purposes and that Spongelab could develop it further for commercial use. I am happy to say that we have deployed the original GDL in our exhibit to great success and also that Spongelab has gone on to develop the concept further and started to distribute it to a broader community commercially."

Although it is the current Spongelab version of the interactive gaming modules that caught the eye of the 2008 Visualization Challenge reviewers, both game sets are engaging and informative. Sors explains, " game players are submerged deep within a living plant cell to experience the astonishing complexity and beauty of life's most fundamental processes. By testing a virtual plant's survival using different light, gas, and water conditions, the GDL player gets to live through and delight in the molecular changes that occur in the chloroplast, mitochondrion, and nucleus under the different environmental situations she/he has selected. The concept is simple and very effective in that a felt or sensed experience is more memorable than any factual knowledge gained from passively reading or memorizing a text book."


Contact: David Salt
American Society of Plant Biologists

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