An ear for design | Work of Arts
An ear for design | Work of Arts

An ear for design

Arts alumna and medical illustrator Andréa Zariwny has developed an app called InvisibleEar that allows users to view and study the inside of an ear

The human ear is a wondrous thing. Tiny bones and complex chambers interact to transmit vibrations in the air to the brain, where it will be interpreted as sound.

ScreenShot01In photographs, the ear is almost impossible to visualize; bones often appear separated and negative space is difficult to see. Andréa Zariwny (’04 BDes) didn’t like the flat representations, and had a better idea: she’d make an app — one that displays the inside of an ear and allows the user to manipulate it in a virtual space.

Called InvisibleEar, the app started as a research project for Zariwny’s Masters of Science in Biomedical Communications at the University of Toronto.

“I wanted to focus on an area of anatomy that was difficult to learn and difficult to understand,” says Zariwny. “You’re learning this intricate anatomy with twists and turns on a flat piece of paper. You can try to dissect it, but it’s difficult after a cadaver is embalmed…. [The ear was] still one area I didn’t fully understand. I found [other students] were having the same frustration.”

The app allows users to view and manipulate a three-dimensional image of an ear on the screen, looking inside the bone and the petrous temporal bone. The petrous portion of the temporal bone protects the inner ear from damage. Different functions let you remove layers and peer inside while spinning and rotating the model. It was created using X-ray computed tomography (CT) data from a human temporal bone.

Developing an app was a chance for Zariwny to put her background in design to good use while applying her new knowledge of anatomy and biomedical communication. But if it wasn’t for her time in the Faculty of Arts, she may not have been exposed to art and design.

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“I took my first art class at the U of A. Liked making stuff. I thought it would be really cool to get into the practical arts. I thought design was a good way to do that.”

AndreìaZariwnyAfter graduating in 2004, she had the opportunity work at a number of design jobs. She opened a music and art shop on Whyte Avenue called rUckUs, worked at a gallery and tried her hand at carpentry and model making.

After years in industrial design, Zariwny was drawn back to the human form, looking for an opportunity to combine her love of design with her interest in anatomy. “One of my favourite courses at the U of A involved going to the cadaver labs and drawing the human form,” says Zariwny. “The human body is an amazing thing. It’s one of the best designs out there.”

After completing her masters in 2013, Zariwny now has the theoretical background and practical experience to continue on in the field. She currently works on user experiences at INVIVO Communications, an agency that works with pharmaceutical and medical device industries — and having a working app on sale in the iTunes App Store certainly doesn’t hurt her future prospects.

InvisibleEar is available in the iTunes app store for both iPhone and iPad. You can access it through iTunes or through Zariwny’s website, http://www.andreazariwny.com/#!research/c1wz3.


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