Low-cost VR for materials science

In my ongoing series on VR’s stubborn refusal to just get on with it and croak already, here’s an update from the materials science front. Lilian Dávila, former UC Davis grad student and now professor at UC Merced, was recently featured in a three-part series about cutting-edge digital research at UC Merced, produced by the PR arm of the University of California. Here’s the 10-minute short focusing on her use of low-cost holographic displays for interactive design and analysis of nanostructures:

The cool thing, and this is not really put front and center in the video, is that the showcased work is primarily based on KeckCAVES software and hardware designs. Specifically, the 3D display follows our 3D TV-based low-cost design to the letter, and the software running on it is of course the Nanotech Construction Kit. In fact, while I had started development of the NCK before meeting her, Lilian’s PhD research at UC Davis influenced its development quite a bit — the biggest custom addition being the tetrahedral SiO2 building blocks necessary to build the silicate crystals whose behavior she was investigating. After Lilian left for UC Merced, her low-cost 3D system was the first one (as far as I know) that I did not set up personally. I only gave advice during the hardware procurement phase, and trained Tim Allis, who is featured in the video, in how to set it up and calibrate it. This was before we had the highly detailed step-by-step instructions that we have today.

In a way, Lilian’s system was an experiment: to see if such a display could be assembled, calibrated, and run by non-VR experts (the answer to all three appears to be “yes”). I stayed hands-off intentionally, to the point where this video is actually the first time I have ever seen the display, and I am happy to say it looks really good.

But the most important thing, technical achievements aside, is that Lilian’s system is used exactly for its intended purpose: as a scientific instrument, for research and teaching. When Lilian told me about this video a few days ago (it was produced in summer 2012), I asked her to please send citations for some of the science done with the system, and she obliged. It is an impressive list of journal publications, oral and poster presentations, and an (almost finished) Master’s Thesis, most funded through an NSF grant:

Journal publications

  1. Claudia Flores, Teenie Matlock and Lilian P. Dávila (2012).  Enhancing Materials Research Through Innovative 3D Environments and Interactive Manuals for Data Visualization and Analysis. Materials Research Society Proceedings, 1472, mrss12-1472-zz01-03, DOI: 10.1557/opl.2012.1257.
  2. Benjamin N. Doblack, Claudia Flores, Teenie Matlock and Lilian P. Dávila (2011). The Emergence of Immersive Low-Cost 3D Virtual Reality Environments for Interactive Learning in Materials Science and Engineering. Materials Research Society Proceedings, 1320, mrsf10-1320-xx04-01, DOI: 10.1557/opl.2011.636.

Oral presentations

  1. Claudia Flores, Teenie Matlock and Lilian P. Dávila, Expanding Nanoscience Research Through the Adaptation of Immersive Environments for Effective Visualization and Learning. Symposium ZZ: Transforming Education in Materials Science and Engineering. Materials Research Society Spring Meeting, San Francisco, CA April 10, 2012.
  2. Lilian P. Dávila, Benjamin N. Doblack, Claudia Flores and Teenie Matlock, Interactive 3D Environments for Materials Science Learning. Symposium SS: Forum on Materials Education and Evaluation. Materials Research Society Spring Meeting, CA, April 25-29, 2011.

Poster presentations

  1. Benjamin N. Doblack and Lilian P. Dávila, Investigating Nanostructures in Novel Interactive Computational Environments.  Society of Hispanic Professionals and Engineers (SHPE) Conference, Anaheim, CA October 26-30, 2011.
  2. Benjamin N. Doblack, Maribel Gallardo and Lilian P. Dávila, Immersive Environments as an Interactive Learning Tool in Materials Science Education. Symposium SS: Forum on Materials Education and Evaluation – K-12, Undergraduate, Graduate, and Informal. Materials Research Society Spring Meeting, CA, April 25-29, 2011.
  3. Claudia Flores, Teenie Matlock and Lilian P. Dávila, Low-Cost 3D Virtual Reality Environments and their Effectiveness on Nanoscience Learning. Symposium SS: Forum on Materials Education and Evaluation – K-12, Undergraduate, Graduate, and Informal. Materials Research Society Spring Meeting, CA, April 25-29, 2011.
  4. Benjamin N. Doblack, Claudia Flores, Teenie Matlock and Lilian P. Dávila, The Emergence of Immersive Low-Cost 3D Virtual Reality Environments as an Interactive Learning Tool in Materials Science Education. Symposium XX: Materials Education Development & Outreach – From K-Grad. Materials Research Society Fall Meeting, Boston, MA    Nov. 29-Dec. 3, 2010.
  5. Lilian P. Dávila, Benjamin Doblack, Claudia Flores and Teenie Matlock, The Effectiveness of Interactive Low-Cost 3D Virtual Reality Environments on Materials Science Education. Materials Research Society, Boston, MA, November 29-December 3, 2010.

Thesis: Benjamin N. Doblack, “The Structure and Properties of Silica Glass Nanostructures using Novel Computational Systems,” University of California Merced, M.S. thesis (in progress, 2013).

Grant: BRIGE: Integrated Molecular Dynamics Simulations for Interactive Engineered Atomic-Scale Systems (IDEAS) award #1032653, National Science Foundation, 2010-2012.

Oh, and as of just now (checked on 03/09/2013), Lilian’s work and the Nanotech Construction Kit are featured on UC Merced’s home page.

Please leave a reply!