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Nov. 4: Carnegie Mellon, UNESCO Program Celebrated in International Gallery Shows Featuring Panoramas by Pittsburgh, South African and Trinidad/Tobago Students


Byron Spice                            

Anne Watzman

Carnegie Mellon, UNESCO Program Celebrated in International Gallery Shows
Featuring Panoramas by Pittsburgh, South African and Trinidad/Tobago Students

PITTSBURGH—A 21st Century "pen pal" program in which students in Pittsburgh, South Africa and Trinidad and Tobago exchange explorable digital images of their communities is the focus of an international trio of art gallery shows featuring the giant panoramas created by the students.
The show, "GigaPan Conversations," will run Nov. 4-16 at Artists Image Resource (AIR) on Pittsburgh's North Side. A special event, open to the public, will be held from 5 to 6:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 14.
Like last month's exhibit at MuseuMAfricA in Johannesburg, South Africa, the show features 20-foot-wide prints of panoramas photographed using the GigaPan robotic camera developed by Carnegie Mellon University and NASA. The students' ocean-spanning conversations regarding the panoramas will be printed on the gallery walls and visitors will be invited to join in by jotting down their own thoughts.
For the past seven months, students at Falk Middle School in Oakland and the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild in Manchester have been creating GigaPans of their communities and exchanging them with students at Lavela High School in Soweto, South Africa. The giant images can be shared and explored via computer, with each viewer able to zoom in on details of his or her choosing. The image exchanges prompt email conversations regarding the history, cultures, diets, languages and activities of each community.
"The technology is leading to some really interesting conversations and, we think, contributing to a deeper understanding of people who live an ocean away from each other," said Illah Nourbakhsh, an associate professor of robotics and co-principal investigator of the Global Connection Project at Carnegie Mellon. "After six months, we've collected an enormous amount of material. It's time to celebrate what we have and give the larger public a chance to join in the conversations."
Though the students share their GigaPans via computer, selected GigaPan panoramas have been printed for the exhibits.
The program recently was expanded to Naparima Girls' School on Trinidad and Bishop's High School on Tobago. An exhibit of "GigaPan Conversations" will take place at the University of Trinidad and Tobago's O'Meara campus atrium Nov. 14–Dec. 14.    

The GigaPan School Exchange initially was funded by Google Inc. and was established in partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) Associated Schools Project Network. With funding from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and the Pittsburgh Foundation, the School Exchange will soon include five more middle and high schools in Western Pennsylvania.
The School Exchange includes a curriculum that encourages students to explore certain themes, such as sports or food, and then share GigaPans with their peers in other countries.
"GigaPan represents the highest of high tech and we've taken it to some communities where even computers are rare," Nourbakhsh said. "The students are essentially becoming the pen pals of the technological age."
Images from the show will be featured at the International Conference on Education in Geneva, Switzerland, Nov. 25–28, where Nourbakhsh also is scheduled to speak. Sponsored by UNESCO's International Bureau of Education, the conference is a major education policy forum that involves education ministers from 114 nations.
Based on software originally developed by NASA for assembling panoramas of the surface of Mars, GigaPan makes it possible for almost any digital camera to create digital images consisting of billions of pixels. The camera is attached to a robotic base, which then automatically snaps tens or hundreds of photos of a scene; special software then digitally stitches these photos together into one GigaPan panorama that can be explored with a computer.
Artists Image Resource is located at 518 Foreland Street, north of East Ohio Street between James and Middle streets, on the North Side. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday. AIR is an artist-run organization that integrates the production of fine art printwork with innovative educational programs that explore the creative process.
For more information, call 412-321-8664, email or visit