VR Challenge Combines Science and Gaming

VR Challenge Combines Science and Gaming

Earlier this year, UK biomedical funding body the Wellcome Trust partnered up with Epic Games to prove that games industry skills could help solve scientific problems. The resulting VR Big Data Challenge tasked keen games developers with creating innovative new ways to visualise vast and complex datasets using virtual reality (VR).

Developers could choose from three well-known scientific datasets - the University of Bristol's ALSPAC study of children born in the early 1990s, the Sanger Institute's genome browser, and the historical Casebooks Project which examines 80,000 medical records from the 16th and 17th Centuries. Matching gaming with scientific research makes sense. Both disciplines handle highly complicated data and rely upon human interpretation. 

At the recent finals, held in Brighton, the five selected teams asked visitors to put on VR headsets - the kind you might soon use to play a game - and take a wander through 3D data visualisations. The beauty of the concept of using VR to attempt to understand and make connections is that it relies on the imagination and ability of the human brain. Yes, scientists can write algorithms in order to spot important patterns, but the brain can see these, too. 

The winners of the Big Data VR Challenge were LumaPie, a collaboration between creative studio Masters of Pie and 3D software development consultancy Lumacode. They took the $20,000 prize by visualising the study results of environmental and genetic factors that have shaped the development the lives of more than 14,000 residents of the city of Bristol. LumaPie delivered an interactive simulation with tangible outputs that the judges felt could be applied and adapted to other studies as well. 

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