August 23, 2023

Exploring Nature's Wonders: A Digital Journey with Danny Najera

Daniel Arnulfo Najera is a teacher at Green River College where he teaches ecology and environmental science. Daniel loves nature and is always looking to give his students the best possible experience in order to understand and respect nature and give that back in their future. One of the ways he does this is with technology. We sat down with Daniel for a quick chat to learn more about how he’s using 3D•AI technology as a digital bridge to the natural world, for more immersive and interactive learning.

How did you get into integrating technology and 3D technology into your teachings about nature?

One of the most important things I've done as an academic professional is having the students do a lot of data collection. So I was like, okay I need to provide a tool so they can learn about the different species. I went out into the woods for three years and gradually took a crazy amount of pictures until I got to a point where I realized these pictures are flat and part of the importance is the depth, right? 

I sought details such as the waviness of a leaf, textures, etc. and so I started playing around with stereoscopic photography, taking individual left and right photos then stitching them together. And then when the Lume Pad came out, I started taking pictures with it's 3D cameras.

One of the first things I photographed were mushrooms in the fall and they are some of the most photogenic stereoscopic subjects I've ever taken pictures of! It's so clear what the mushroom looks like when you're looking through Lume Pad 2's 3D display.

Photo provided by Daniel Najeras

The Lume Pad 2 cameras (two on the front and two on the back of the tablet) are pretty close together and so I could actually get really close to the subject. The cameras make it easy to capture close up details, better than what you would be able to see with your eyes due to the distance apart.

When shooting Lume Pad 2 and then viewing it on the 3D display, it's literally better than life because you can't get as close to the subject. Take for example moss structures and little fungus; viewing it in 3D was mind blowing. I keep working toward that next step when it comes to realistic visuals because I want my students to see it, believe it, and generate their own content from it as they learn.

That's so interesting. What are your students' reactions when they first see this type of material on the tablets?

Just complete amazement. They go wow and then they do the hand thing (passing in front of the display through the image that pops out). And then they just sit there for a moment. They go back and forth a little bit so left and right and they're just like, my gosh. This is amazing. 

What has been your experience integrating this tech into the curriculum?

I think the data collection part has been really powerful for their learning. The Lume Pad 2 has been a wow factor and I want to dig deeper. I want to make it part of the education by getting a set of tablets. So instead of just one student using it, I want to make it more prolific where everyone has a tablet. I want them to have access to 3D capturing techniques that we can review later (in videos) that they can go back to and really immerse themselves in. 

I think involving the students with that level of understanding, that level of impact, will help deepen their experience and then help them learn more, invest more time, be more motivated and then retain the information.

One of the simplest things I want is to show a series of 2D floral pictures and then a series of 3D pictures. Then ask them questions and see if the information from the 3D pictures gives them a higher score. I expect they’ll have a better understanding and be able to better reflect upon what they’re seeing. 

What do you feel is the social impact here? So many in the conservation movement have also been photographers.

John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt were able to go out on horse and ride the range for six months and come back and tell us we need national parks. Later Ansel Adams would capture these images and create consciousness about our landscapes and the need to preserve them. However, today's students are going be using headsets and mobile devices. We'll need to provide a set of tools that enable them to experience nature and say, "this is part of the world that's necessary if we want clean water".

We'll need to provide a set of tools that enable them to experience nature and say, "this is part of the world that's necessary if we want clean water".

Natural systems - soil, water, agriculture - are pivotal to our existence. As we introduce the next generation to the world's diverse cultures and landscapes, we must ensure that nature is at the forefront. While many are drawn to the evident beauty of nature, such as vibrant flowers, delicate butterflies, and colorful birds, it's essential to emphasize the interconnectedness of all elements within this system. As an environmental scientist, I understand that everything is intricately linked. The importance of visual representation cannot be understated. There's a vast difference between fearing a bee sting and marveling at a detailed video of a bee pollinating a flower, showcasing the flower's beauty and the bee's complexity. As a beekeeper, I also emphasize the essential role bees play. After all, without pollination, how can we expect honey? Without bee pollination, what fruits will we not have? It's vital that we comprehend nature in its entirety, acknowledging both its beauty and its function.

We can't always go back to horseback riding across the plains so we've got to give them an alternative and I believe Lume Pad 2 is going to be one of those powerful tools.

What have been some of the other experiences on Lume Pad 2 that you have enjoyed most?

Without a doubt, LeiaChat is a favorite. Engaging with others on screens is familiar to many, but experiencing interactions in 3D depth takes it to a new dimension. While modern communication often relies on texts or occasional FaceTime calls, we've lost the essence of genuine face-to-face conversations. Now, with LeiaChat, we're reclaiming a more authentic and immersive way to connect. It's not just innovative; it's transformative.

Do you have any tips for aspiring environmentalists out there that are curious and interested about, going out in, documenting nature in 3D?

Yeah, In today's conservation discussions, the focus often zooms in on intricate details like soil and microbial genetics. While we should always have a global perspective, it's essential to act on a more local, intimate scale. This is where 3D imagery, especially with tools like Lume Pad 2, comes into play. It offers an almost tangible experience, making subjects appear closer and more real. Although the broader ecosystem is crucial, we've lacked tools that highlight the immediate surroundings — that square meter right in front of you. But with these advancements, that's changing.

Stay up with Daniel Najera's work through Green River Biology Club and Green River Community College Honey Bees! You can also learn from other 3D•AI creators that are realizing inspiring projects in their community such as Dr. Tomoki Itamiya. We love to amplify community projects so don't forget to tag us with your creations and follow us on social media @LeiaInc!