Bringing Structure to Biology
Virtual Reality to interact with 3D structures
Although VR (virtual reality) has been around for decades, it is only now with cheap and powerful hardware (compuers, headsets and smartphones), and demand from the world of gaming, that VR applications are becoming more widely available. On 14 March 2017, we were visited by Jonas Boström (whose day job is in computational chemistry at AstraZeneca in Mölndal, Sweden) and a former student of his, Magnus Norrby (who now works for the Nordea bank) to discuss possible applications of VR. Jonas and Magnus have set up a company, EduChem-VR, that aims to increase interest in and understanding of chemistry and structural biology through the use of VR.
Magnus and Jonas have a track-record of delivering powerful and user-friendly tools to enhance drug discovery. An example is their Oculus Rift-based virtual reality molecular visualiser Molecular Rift. H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf, the Crown Princess of Sweden, the Sports Minister of Chile, the Executive Vice President at AstraZeneca and the Head of Business Development at EA Sports have all interacted with atoms and molecules using Molecular Rift. Now they are changing focus to bring VR technology to the world of education. The first two apps can be downloaded from their website, one to explore carbon-based compounds and one to explore macromolecular structures from the PDB.
As part of their visit to the Molecular and Cellular Structure Cluster at EMBL-EBI they also gave a well-attended seminar entitled "The Cool in Drug Discovery". After the seminar a bunch of EBI-ans took the opportunity to try out VR applications in molecular visualization using both cheap smartphone-based goggles and the powerful Oculus Rift headset.
Jonas Boström (second from left) and Magnus Norrby (second from right) of EduChem-VR demonstrating their VR software on a variety of devices. (Photo credit: Andrew Leach.)
PDBe's Sameer Velankar immersed in a virtual molecular world using the Molecular Rift system.