April 5, 2018
Outline of proposal to setup VR systems with science applications in the 27 branches of the San Francisco Public Library. NSF program solicitation 17-573 Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Consumer virtual reality (VR) technology can help students and the public to understand the latest research about how life and disease work at the molecular and cellular scale. We've developed four VR software applications: Molecular Zoo, AltPDB, and ConfocalVR, ChimeraX VR that allow pre-college students to handle human-scale fully flexible biomolecules (drugs, water, ATP, saturated fat, carbon-dioxide, ...), enable multi-person exploration the interior of large molecular machines such as human immune system components, and show cutting-edge 3D electron and light microscopy of cells. We have demonstrated these applications to several dozen of high school student groups, and groups of adult non-scientists, more than 500 individuals visiting UCSF, presentations received with almost universally high levels of enthusiasm. We propose to extend access to this exemplary science education technology to the 27 branch libraries of the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) system through a collaboration of UCSF Science and Health Education Parternship (SEP), the UCSF Computer Graphics Lab, and SFPL. A major current function of the libraries is to provide computers for public access, and this venue especially well-suited to reach students and members of the public who have little access to technology and science in their homes. We will provide a computers and a virtual reality headsets and hand controllers equipped with turn-key molecular and cellular interactive visualization software. We will curate and provide on the computers the best available science virtual reality applications from other developers such as TheBlu which lets you explore a coral reef and whales, The Body VR takes you through the blood stream into cells and let's you fight off a virus attack, 3D Organon VR Anatomy let's you explore human anatomy, Mission ISS let's you crawl around inside the international space station, .... A second aspect of this proposal will include development of new biomolecular content such as the ability to handle DNA unzipping and recombining it, how drugs function and are metabolized, and how molecules aggregate leading to neurodegenerative disease. A third aspect will be to evaluate factors that make the most effective virtual reality science applications for the public by mining usage data. This work will be a pilot program to reveal best practices and levels of engagement for introducing science virtual reality to other libraries across the country.