Previously 'daunting' lectures are transformed into one of the biochemistry degree's most novel learning experiences, using stereo projection to help students visualise macro-molecular structures
Staff and students at the University of Warwick have long dreaded that point in the Warwick's biochemistry degree when lecturers have to attempt to explain the arcane and intricate three-dimensional geometry of protein structures obtained by X-ray crystallography.
Protein crystallography researchers have long used 3D techniques in their research.
Computer programmes exist which depict 3D images of protein crystal structures.
Many research papers in this field come with colour stereo images that can be viewed in 3D with the correct glasses and an ordinary PC screen.
University of Warwick biochemist professor Vilmos Fulop explained: "I decided to see if he could use the same techniques to help undergraduates get a better grasp of this difficult topic.
"Instead of an individual experience, the Virtalis system uses stereo projection to bring 3D to large audiences.
"We're using the Virtalis system to help students visualise macro-molecular structures, such as proteins in 3D.
"Simple illustrations in textbooks can't begin to convey these very big, complex molecules, because if you strip down the molecules, you lose the point and it is difficult to explain what is going on.
"As well as getting over ideas in the best possible way, I want to inspire the best students, so that they forge careers in science and structural biology".
Professor Fulop won £35k of funding from the University of Warwick's teaching innovation fund.
He used this to buy a StereoWorks system from Virtalis, as well as specifically designed 3D software for crystallography.
Thanks to this novel integration of technology and software, he now has a lecture room that feels more like a 3D cinema.
Undergraduate students have just begun to experience both the new teaching technology and the new style lectures.
As a result, Warwick believes that challenging biochemistry lectures will become some of the most sought after learning experiences on campus.
Depending on the success of this pilot project, VR technology could be extended to other disciplines across the university.