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 Touching Molecules With Your Bare Hands

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Date posted: 15/04/2005

Image reproduced with permission, The Scripps Research Institute

A group of scientists at The Scripps Research Institute has developed a new way of looking at and interacting with molecules so small that they cannot be seen even with the world?s most powerful microscopes.

Tangible Interfaces for Structural Molecular Biology is the name of this new, augmented reality based tech, and its creators envision it as a technology useful for both educational and scientific research.

?We want to be able to understand, communicate, and interact with complex structures in natural ways,? explains Molecular Biology Professor Art Olson, who led the research described in this month?s issue of the journal Structure. ?The easier it is to hold a biological molecule in your hands, the easier it will be to figure out what it is doing in the body.?

By using cutting-edge three-dimensional fabricating printers that ?print? solid objects out of thousands of layers of plaster or plastic, the group can construct models of proteins, DNA, and other tiny biological molecules. These models can be touched, twisted, tweaked, and tossed from person to person.

Image reproduced with permission, The Scripps Research Institute

Then, using digital recording to capture and track the movement of these objects, in the exact same way as standard motion capture, an artificial environment is created, in which the computer duplicate of the physical model is manipulated and moved in real-time in the precise same way as its physical counterpart. The difference of course being, that the virtual one, can be slotted into place, as it would be in the body.

In fact, this particular AR goes further, with the augmented reality version being smart enough to recognise properties of the molecules. For example, a proton grasped and bent, so that two opposite ends come close together, the field around the molecule in those places, changes from a blue sheen to a fierce red, warning that the electrostatic properties of the molecule are not going to put up with this manipulation.

Similarly, says Olson, such tangible interfaces could be used to manipulate models and predict molecular interactions.

Photos: Examples of this technology in action

See the full Story via external site: www.scripps.edu

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