The ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology is set to take people on an educational journey through a plant cell — using virtual reality technology. The Centre will launch the Virtual Plant Cell (VPC), a unique virtual reality experience that lets its audience explore the microscopic inner world of a plant.
VPC allows users to interact with the plant cell and learn about the complex processes that scientists study, in a novel and engaging way.
"With 2016 set to be the year that virtual reality truly takes off as a mainstream technology we've decided to take full advantage of the opportunity to take the public to places where they can’t normally go, like the inside of a cell," said Karina Price, Science Communications Officer for Plant Energy Biology, who is leading the project.
"With VPC a user can move across the inside surface of a plant cell membrane. They can peer into a chloroplast or watch as DNA swirls overhead in the nucleus. They can even help the plant survive challenges faced in its environment by controlling what happens in the cell".
The project is drawing on the expertise of Plant Energy Biology scientists and on the Centre's research.
"The world needs to dramatically increase its food production for the future. Our research aims to better understand how plants create and use energy, in order to improve them for agriculture. We want the community to understand how we do this, and why."
"VR presents an incredible way to showcase our science".
"Understanding complicated cell biology becomes simple when you can see first-hand what goes on inside of a cell. Users gain a better understanding when they have been immersed in that world".
VPC will serve as an exciting background for educating the community and creating a dialogue about plant energy biology research. The Centre hopes to secure the funding needed to continue VPC development to create an educational resource for teaching biology in schools.
"We're building something that is visually appealing, engaging and exciting, and that is scientifically sound" said Miss Price. "We're passionate about educating the community and highlighting the importance of plant research. What better way to do this than immersing people in our world?"
The VPC project has drawn on the skills of Western Australian artist Peter Ryan, and award winning Unity Developer Richard England (Reflex Arc).
"Plant Energy Biology are ahead of the curve here” said Dominic Manley, from Augmented and Virtual Reality Labs (AVRL), who has led the technical management of the project.
"Virtual reality is forecasted to be a significant disruptive force in academia and other sectors over the coming years. Organisations that are already exploring the potential of VR are building the knowledge and experience required to adapt and create the exciting and progressive tools and experiences of the future".
Plant Energy Biology has had previous success with immersive education using the world's largest inflatable plant cell, the Bio-Bounce, and a full-dome movie called Plantarium. These novel resources engage audiences in plant science in exciting ways.
The Centre will publicly reveal the first of its VPC VR experiences during National Science Week 2016 at Perth Science Festival on 13 and 14 August, South Australia University of Adelaide Open Day on 14 August and Australian Capital Territory Science in ACTion on 13 August.