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 UMD Goes 3-D

This topographic view of the earth is displayed on the first floor of Heller Hall. The map is unique to UMD.

Heller Hall Floor Maps Unique to UMD

UMD’s newest feature showers the halls with color, vibrancy, and 3-D images. The huge floor maps installed in the Department of Geological Sciences on the first floor of Heller Hall are unique to UMD. The maps were printed by the Minnesota Science Museum, mounted directly on the floor and then waxed in place to become a permanent public display of the Earth’s many features. Soon, there will also be a Venus wall mural located in the hallway outside of Chemistry 200. The effect these maps have had on UMD in their short installment amazes the one person who fronted the effort to bring them to UMD.

Bringing the Maps to UMD

After visiting the Minnesota Science Museum and seeing the large floor maps in the entry hall, Vicki Hansen, McKnight presidential professor in the Department of Geological Sciences, thought that floor maps would make a great addition to UMD. She saw the appeal the large floor maps had to people of all ages. She then led the effort to bring these floor maps and wall mural to UMD. With the help of a Chancellor’s Research Award, Chancellor’s Grant and some department funding, Hansen was able to bring these 3-D maps to UMD, offering many opportunities for research, learning and community outreach.

"It's so much fun to watch people interact with these maps. Many maps reside in filing cabinets and you have to consciously pull them out. With these floor maps, we have the surface of the planet on display all the time so you can interact and learn, while still doing your daily activities," Hansen said.

The 3-D features of the images makes the maps even more interactive. There are two different types of 3-D glasses that UMD uses for the maps: Chromodepth™ 3-D glasses for the floor maps and anaglyph red-blue 3-D glasses for the Venus wall mural.

The maps provide two different views of the Earth’s surface.


The first map was taken with LANDSAT, a satellite that takes pictures of the Earth from different viewpoints. Other than boasting the 3-D feature, it offers a stunning, cloud-free view of the Earth’s surface in three images: the north- and south-polar regions (each 4.5 feet diameter) and the main image (11 feet wide and 20 feet long).

LANDSAT images provide us with an opportunity to study many aspects of our planet, including human-induced changes. UMD’s Department of Geology is hoping to use these images to provide students a better understanding of Earth. Clearly visible on the maps are climate regions, ice-cover regions, plate boundaries and major lakes (even Lake Superior). The map illustrate how the continents once fit together and the differences in landmass through time.

This LANDSAT view of the earth is displayed on the first floor of Heller Hall.

Topographic Views

The larger map (18 feet wide and 40 feet long) provides an image of the Earth’s surface in a multitude of bright color that represent different levels of elevation on land and topography of the ocean basins (bathymetry). The colors were also selected to make the images 3-D when viewed through Chromodepth™ glasses (available for group loan by the Department of Geological Sciences).

North- and south-polar regions (each 4.5 feet diameter) accompany the topography map as well. The topographic maps offer clear views of continental mountain belts, broad continental shelves, extensive mountain ridges that cut the ocean basins and mark plate boundaries where new ocean crust forms, and deep ocean trenches were ocean crust is recycled to the Earth’s mantle.  

Viewing Venus

Along with these floor maps, a 3-D Venus wall mural will expand the Heller Hall Earth Science exhibits. The Venus wall mural (8 feet high and 18 feet long) is on display in the hallway outside of Chemistry 200. This 3-D display offers a big-picture view of a complete global swath of Venus’ surface from about 55 degrees north to 55 degrees south. Red-blue 3-D glasses will hang next to the display allowing visitors to view the many features of Venus’ surface compared to Earth’s.

The Venus mural is not only scientific, but also shows the art of science. Hansen constructed the images using NASA Magellan data, and a computer program designed by former UMD post-doctoral researcher Duncan Young.

A Helpful Tool

UMD’s Department of Geological Sciences will benefit greatly from these large maps. UMD students can utilize the floor maps in several classes as an interactive method of learning. The 3-D feature also offers another interesting approach to Geology that other universities do not offer.

"There are classes using these maps from every level—from 1000 to 5000," Hansen said. "Other departments are using them as well, which just shows how versatile these maps are as classroom tools."

Students will also use the Venus wall mural. Many students are involved in research projects that deal with the understanding of Earth in comparison to its sister planet, Venus. The wall mural will give students a better opportunity to study the surface of Venus up close.

Not only do the floor maps and mural offer excellent opportunities for students to learn more about Earth, they also provide professors with opportunities for research projects. The images allow scientists to view Earth from a different perspective that other universities cannot offer. The hope is that these images will allow scientists to develop a better understanding of Earth.

These vibrant images are drawing attention to the Geological Sciences Department, giving UMD a multitude of new opportunities and even inspiring others to do something similar. "I think our floor maps may inspire other universities to do the same, making UMD quite the trendsetter," Hansen said.

Drawing in the Community

One of the biggest features about these maps and mural, Hansen says, is that they are capable of drawing the Duluth community to UMD.

"The maps and murals are exhibits that are available all the time. People will interact differently with the maps each time, and when they do interact, they interact with each other. Every interaction we get builds a sense of community," Hansen said.

This sense of community and public outreach is something that Hansen believes has been accomplished by these floor maps. "A university is strengthened by community," Hansen said. "I think what is happening on campus is great. The best part is that people are learning about the Earth. I hope that it makes people more aware of the planet they live on and makes people realize that we are all in this together."

Written by Mandee Kuglin

UMD home page editor, Cheryl Reitan,
NEW RELEASES, UMD media contact, Susan Latto,, 218-726-8830

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