The UNM Art, Research, Technology and Science (ARTS) Laboratory recently earned an international award for innovation in research and teaching shared by only five universities.

The International Digital Media and Arts Association (iDMAa) awarded its 2013 International Digital Media Association Innovative Program Award to the ARTS Lab late last month.

According to the laboratory’s website, only four other programs have been awarded this award since the iDMAa’s founding.

Fifteen universities established iDMAa in 2004 to recognize “the outstanding achievements in digital media and arts through awards programs,” according to the site.

Tim Castillo, director of the ARTS Lab, said they received the award for all the work achieved at the lab.

“They were very impressed by what we do because, for one, it’s really about research, but it’s also about pedagogy and teaching,” he said. “We kind of do both. And I guess they were just impressed with the way we were thinking about culture and place in New Mexico.”

The ARTS Lab works with a variety of faculty members and students on different multimedia projects, Castillo said.

Castillo said one cinematic project conducted by the lab a few years ago, titled “Mayan Skies,” was shown around the world.

“It was really a project that looked at the Mayan culture and how they looked at the stars, the astronomy of the Mayan culture,” he said. “It’s a little cinematic event that kind of traveled at domes around the world. And so it’s been in Hong Kong and Oakland and Mexico City and it’s really a phenomenal piece.”

Viewers watch “Mayan Skies” on a special video screen known as a fulldome, which are “immersive dome-based video projection environments where the viewer is surrounded by the video projection in a hemispherical angle of view.”

David Beining, an associate and immersive director at the ARTS Lab, said UNM is one of a few institutions of higher education in the world that owns a fulldome. He said UNM was once the only university that owned a fulldome.

“It used to be one, which was us, back in the early 2000s,” he said. “And it’s up to probably 40, 50 in the world, with a lot of big players coming into the game: Notre Dame, North Carolina, USC is working on an immersive program. So it’s a growing field.”

Beining also said UNM’s is the first dome to be dedicated to education and research.

Castillo said UNM recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation to build a portable dome that would make viewing immersive media more accessible to audiences.

Castillo said the lab also received another grant in 2010 from NSF called the Partnerships for Innovation grant to make the dome more interactive.

“The dome has traditionally been a kind of playback system, so meaning it’s kind of like a film,” he said.

Castillo said funding for the lab projects vary depending on the grant source.

“We range anywhere from a $5000 grant to the NSF grant that we had was half a million dollars,” he said. “There’s kind of a range and we’re kind of unique in the sense that we work with artists and we work with engineers and so the gamut that we’re working in is very large. So one of the challenges in ARTS lab is really trying to continually have the resources to be sustainable.”