Renowned Conservationist Jane Goodall Works with SEAS Students and Faculty on “Virtual Jane” Project

Dr. Goodall with SEAS faculty and students
Dr. Goodall with SEAS faculty and students
June 13, 2019

In May 2019, Dr. Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, UN Messenger of Peace, and a pioneer in wild chimpanzee behavior, visited GW to build a new educational platform that will use virtual reality to spread her message of environmental conservation to future generations. The project, called the “Virtual Jane,” is housed in the GW Innovation Center in Tompkins Hall.

The project involves capturing Dr. Goodall’s likeness and movements in the SEAS Motion Capture and Analysis Laboratory run by SEAS Professor James Hahn. These captures will be used to recreate Dr. Goodall’s image on the “Virtual Jane” platform. The “Virtual Jane” team is composed of a group of students who are studying computer science, business, marketing and anthropology.

Digitizing Dr. Goodall
Digitizing Dr. Goodall


Dr. Goodall led the longest-running continuous research study of chimpanzees Tanzania’s Gombe National Park. Her focus shifted from research to conservation during a plane ride over Gombe in 1992 when she saw the rampant deforestation of the once-lush forest Gombe forests, and knew that in order to save chimpanzees, save the forests they lived in. Today, Dr. Goodall advocates on behalf of conservation of all species and travels nearly 300 days a year to share stories from her five decades of scientific exploration. She advocates for community-centered conservation and spreads a message of hope to inspire people everywhere, especially young people, that they can create a more hopeful future for our world.

The team hopes to launch a minimally viable version of the “Virtual Jane” platform by the end of 2020. The team already has put together the first design elements, concept art and a storyboard that explores Dr. Goodall’s early field work.

“Dr. Goodall’s message of hope and her expertise in conservation are more important today than ever before,” said Linda Berdine, vice-chair of the Jane Goodall Institute’s board of directors.  “The GWIC Virtual Jane project is a good example of the kind of partnerships that JGI is pursuing to help scale sharing of Dr. Goodall’s message around the globe and to new generations.”

Dr. James Hahn with his virtual rerality team
Dr. James Hahn with his virtual rerality team

Annamaria Konya Tannon, executive director of the GW Innovation Center and chief evangelist for innovation, entrepreneurship and invention in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, said she hopes the project is just the beginning of a long and productive partnership. “This project will bring classroom concepts to life and enable students to apply what they learn in the classroom in an unusually meaningful way,” she said. “This project creates an opportunity for the entire university to engage on one topic and advance the GWIC mission to create socially responsible projects.”