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This UNT Developed Photo App Tracks the World's Growth in Time-lapse

"There's nothing worse for a human being than to feel like they're repressed because they can't pursue or express a passion," says University of North Texas professor Ruth West.

"It lets you get through almost anything."

West is speaking tangentially -- and not about RePhoto, the app she's helping develop as part of a team of global researchers. You'd think she would be, since RePhoto will entice normal folks to chart ecological growth via time-lapse cell phone photography. If you made something that important, it's probably all you'd talk about.

But no.

She's arguing in favor of fans of Monster Truck, Medieval Times and other left-of-center subcultures. To her, this all gels. Passion gives balance to life, and when that's at equilibrium, we're free to do our best work, she says. At the moment, West's passion is driving her to alter the way we look at the changing world through technological unification. And yes, thanks to a group of artsy scientists, there's an app for that.

The recent California-to-Denton transplant was lassoed by UNT earlier this year. She's working across several departments, developing new curriculum that combines art and science. With an MFA in new media and a degree in molecular chemistry, West's work frequently titrates one field into the other. Take her project Stars: West used astronomical data gathered by a team of little-known female researchers (they worked from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s) and converted it to music, digitally imaged onto an LP. When played, you can hear the sonic translation of their stellar mapping on vinyl as the luminescence of each star informs the duration, pitch and tonal output.

Also, it looks cool.

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Her newest project is RePhoto, a communal effort helmed by her, Washington University, University of Vermont and the University of California, San Diego, made in response to a National Science Foundation Initiative challenge. The NSFI wanted to engage the general public with science in meaningful ways, so RePhoto was developed. The app stores "projects," nature-rich areas around town that you're encouraged to photograph. It also gives an outline of form, so you can match it with distance and camera angle. Then, you snap and save. Your photo uploads to the photo pool and the collaborative data layers, creating an image in time-lapse. Viewed philosophically, it's allowing us to chart the world's growth together.

"Basically, the app is both incredibly simple to use and at the same time really powerful," says West. She and her colleagues envision RePhoto as more than another tap-and-play toy: depending on the constructs of each project, the app could track turtles in Missouri or monitor the growth of urban tree canopies of New York, Vermont or Dallas -- useful data for scientists who study the shifting ecology. By joining, you fill in gaps that cannot be bridged through aerial photography and tree censuses alone.

You can also mess with it on a micro level. For personal use, RePhoto's site suggests you apply the app to "see how downtown, or your garden, or your mustache have changed in the last year." West and her crew aren't stuffy; they know urban facial hair forests matter too.

The app is currently available for download and there's a few, early-phase Dallas projects set up, with more being developed.

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