World in a Cell

World in a Cell

An artscience collaboration

Although artists and scientists are thought to exist in very different worlds, they do not. Artists depict their view of the world using intuition as analysis, using a variety of visual media. Scientists attempt to understand the world through analyses of complex experiments and present the results using a variety of visual representations. World in a Cell unifies these two approaches.

It is estimated that 415 million people are living with diabetes in the world, and 46% of people with diabetes are undiagnosed. The figure is expected to rise to 642 million people living with diabetes worldwide by 2040. Research on the Pancreatic Beta Cell – the cell responsible for supplying insulin to the body – is central to finding a cure for type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Over the past two years this broadly post-disciplinary team of scientists, storytellers, artists, programmers and conceptual thinkers at the USC Bridge Institute in the Michelson Center for Convergent Biosciences and the World Building Media Lab at USC Media Arts + Practice division of Cinematic Arts, have been exploring and developing the new language of the Pancreatic Beta Cell. They continue to create this fully experiential virtual world in a single cell, using the metaphor of the complex systems within a city. Using storytelling and world building, we present scientific detail in ways that are engaging and approachable for both laymen and experts. By creating a virtual world inside a cell, based on the structure and function of a Pancreatic Beta Cell, we will allow people to explore a rich biochemical world while engaging concepts, pathways, and implications through narrative, all backed by scientific rigour.

World in a Cell is a transmedia project that uses Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality to approach the way we share and depict biological data about the human body. The immersive experience inside the cell is making complex scientific concepts more approachable for the general public, and we believe it can ultimately change the way we understand how medications and treatments change biological systems.

For the first time, the modular representation of the constituents of the Pancreatic Beta Cell allows the user/viewer to see the constituents of the cell in direct relationship to one another. Within mixed-reality, immersive and interactive environments, supported by a Unity Game Engine, the viewer can observe relative scale, relative geo-location, relative activity, and relative function of each constituent, through time and fully immersive space.

Lead organisation

World Building Media Lab USC School of Cinematic Arts


HTC Vive, Hololens 2


Alex McDowell, R.D.I. Creative Director, Principal Investigator, Director of the WbML

Helen Berman, Co-Principal Investigator, Scientific Advisor

The World in a Cell team consists of undergraduate and graduate researchers, professionals, and faculty members with expertise in architecture, animation, biochemistry, cell biology, computational biology, engineering, film production, game design, graphic design, narrative design, structural biology, sound design, and world-building.


World in a Cell Demo Trailer