If you’ve ever seen a floating molecule in Second Life, chances are it was created by Dr. Andrew Lang, a mathematical physicist at Oral Roberts University, otherwise known as Hiro Sheridan in-world. Hiro recently demonstrated working prototypes of several different tools in collaboration with Jean-Claude Bradley, a chemistry professor at Drexel University, known as Horace Moody. The demonstrations included a molecule rezzer that allows a user to name a compound in text chat and watch as it builds itself in front of you atom by atom, and a docking simulator that demonstrates how molecules bond together to form more complex structures.
Molecule docking simulation. Image courtesy of Eloise Pasteur.
“This shows the docking of one of our molecules in a malarial enzyme,” said Horace, “I collaborated with Rajarshi Guha at Indiana University for the coordinates, and Hiro did the rendering.” The molecules floating in air move together step by step, and students can control and replay the process by using chat commands. “This demonstrates a chemical reaction with all the intermediates shown,” says Hiro, “This is really hard [for students] to see on paper, but easy to show here.”
Molecule reaction mechanism. Image courtesy of Hiro Sheridan.
Hiro also built a 3D periodical table of the elements, based on a 2D spiral peridoic table created by Professor Theodor Benfey. The 3D table shows approximate relative sizes of the atoms for comparison, color codes each group, and when each atom is clicked, information about its atomic structure, chemical properties, and typical uses spits out from the device. A free copy of the 3D table is available on the ACS island.
3D periodic table of elements. Image courtesy of Hiro Sheridan.
Hiro and Horace are using these tools to help students prepare for exams or projects, but they use Second Life in other ways as well. Hiro teaches an honors course called Science and the Imagination, and he recently arranged to bring science fiction author Joan Slonczewski into the virtual world for a presentation to the class. “I give my ‘virtual reality in science and science fiction’ lesson in virtual reality, they get a kick out of it,” said Hiro, “That’s the kind of use that I’d like to see more of, really taking advantage of Second Life’s affordances.”
Hiro also built the presentation and HQ areas where the American Chemistry Society holds meetings, and discussed residencies for chemistry faculty available on the island. “Kate Sellar has started an ACS resident chemist program, she offers free land to ACS members to form a community of faculty collaborators and students get to build too as ‘resident helpers’,” he said. In addition to the cafe, Hiro has a number of science related freebies at the ACS HQ as well as a science fiction set at the Second Nature sim.
“As the technology gets better, so will the benefits of Second Life for education. Right now it is still in its early stages but I see it becoming mainstream in about 4 years,” he says, “The things that are possible already are almost unlimited right now, they’re just hard to do for the average educator. But Second Life is ideal for showing students 3D concepts that they just can’t get by looking at a static webpage.”
Be sure to stop by and check out Hiro and Horace’s work at the ACS island!
~Posted by Fleep Tuque
Written by Chris Collins