Author: Reiko Tsuneto
Everyday, scientists collect plenty of data to analyze in
order to come up with some hypotheses. Since we live in a three-dimensional
world, much of the information comes from events that are inherently
three dimensional. Virtual reality technologies give scientists new ways
of data vizualization; Mathematicians can see three-dimensional equations.
Biologists can build 3-D models of genes. VR also helps researchers
to create interactive simulations of scientific phenomena.
Students also can take advantages of virtual reality. Reading textbook
to understand the concept of gravity is one thing. Exploring through
the worlds of zero gravity is another. As they say, 'seeing is believing'.
Virtual reality is a new and effective tool for studies and researches
Below are two examples of applications of virtual reality in science
that currently exist.
Virtual-physics laboratory is a virtual laboratory in which the
users can conduct simple experiments which can not be done in a real
world. It was developed by R. Bowen Loftin at the University of
Houston-Downtown. A user wearing headgear and a control glove has a
panoramic view of the virtual laboratory; there is a table, a
pendulum, some balls as well as few odd devices that govern the
actions in the laboratory. Users see an image of their hand which
duplicates the motion of the real thing. Certain gestures of the
control glove mean specific actions. Pointing the index finger, for
example, sends the virtual physicist flying across the room.
Parameters in the room such as gravity, friction and drag can be
controlled by users. The effects of the changes in the variables
appear in the movements of the pendulum and the bouncing balls.
Here, a ball can bounce as it would on Jupiter. The main goal
of this virtual reality system is to give students proper concepts
about physical laws of which they often get wrong ideas. In this
artificial environment, it is easy to see the effects of gravity
without any interference of friction which almost always plays a
role in the motion of objects.
Virtual reality helps us to manipulate 3-D structure models. The
GROPE-III system, developed at the University of North Carolina
is a unique molecular docking tool for chemists. Detecting allowable
and forbidden docking sites between a drug and a protein or nucleic
acid is crucial in designing effective drugs. Because both drug and
nucleic acid molecules are complex 3-D structures, locating
effective docking sites is a daunting task. Wearing polarized
eyeglasses, the chemists view a stereoscopic image of the
molecules, they can then use a special control device, Argonne
remote manipulator(ARM), to grab one of the moleciles and attempt
to dock it with the other. The chemists can even feel the force
field surrounding the molecules. Unfortunately, the current system
has lower frame rate than required for realistic modeling and the
improper use of the manipulator arms could destroy themselves.
Aukstakalnis, S. & Blatner, D.(1992) SILICON MIRAGE:The Art and Science of
Virtual Reality, Prechpit Press.
Yam, Phillip, 1993. Surreal Science. Scientific American,
Feb. 1993, P103.
Human Interface Technology Laboratory