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Exploration of the Molecules of Life with Virtual Reality

Gareth Denyer

University of Sydney

Science students are traditionally taught protein structure and function through textbook pictures and/ or physical model building. This is not effective for most students because conceiving large, complex three dimensional chemicals structure and dynamic molecular interactions requires a very high degree of abstract thought, imagination and extrapolation.

It is intuitively reasonable to believe that a virtual reality approach would aid appreciation of nano- scaled molecular structure, function and dynamics. However, things needed to happen before this could be possible: the building of a facility for VR teaching and the creation of VR Peptide Simulation so ware. We will describe the utilisation of a large facility for delivering VR solutions; The Immersive Learning Laboratory set up by the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Sydney. We will also describe the development and deployment of two types of VR molecular modelling so ware – one with foundations in computer game design to teach fundamentals and a commercial package designed for drug design in the Pharmaceutical industry.

We will report on how engagement with these systems allows creativity, exploration, and teamwork, even to the extent where the hive-crowd can be leveraged to add knowledge and develop the so ware and experience exemplars. In the last part of the presentation, we will focus on how the technology allows experts from around the world to interactively teach whole groups of students in collaborative virtual space.