Readily Accessible Technology for Virtual Reality in (Bio)Molecular Education
06 apr 2017

Winnaars GrassRoots 2017 – voorjaar:

Door: Maikel Wijtmans en Albert Kooistra (FEW)

Maikel Wijtmans


Molecular thinking is key in scientific areas such as nanotechnology, chemistry, and medicinal research. Historically, molecular structures are shown in 2D but this bypasses the real 3D structure of molecules, which itself is a key molecular property. In molecular education, the 3D structure should be conveyed as best as possible. Building upon our earlier innovative work with tablet and smartphone viewers we now propose to make a step forward by introducing Virtual reality (VR) in (bio)molecular education with the aim of enhancing the 3D spatial molecular awareness of students.

Toward this end, we require readily accessible and inexpensive technology. With the advent of Google Cardboard in which an inexpensive cardboard holder and the smartphone of the student are combined to give a Virtual Reality viewer, application in education comes within reach. The opportunities with VR to afford unprecedented realistic 3D submersion in molecular structures with real head-tracking are highly significant. To this end, developing and testing of customised software for molecular VR viewing in an educational context is required and is the practical goal of this Grassroots proposal.

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With the Grassroots award, we bought ca. 100 Google Cardboards. We used these in the course Structuurbiologie (April) where students had to answer some questions about two proteins. Normally, they would use standard software for this but now the students had to address the questions with the aid of Virtual Reality. They submerged themselves in the protein structure using our software, their smartphone and the Cardboards. Overall, the evaluation by students was positive! Some technical hiccups and comments emerged that will need to be addressed. The project will be pushed further by Jacqueline van Muijlwijk as a unit called MolTour in the Demonstrator Lab in the W&N building ( It is interesting to note that we have also used this technology successfully at the National Science Day and during the VU Bachelor day.

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