Goggles on for 3D molecular marvel

December 8, 1995

Decrepit lecture rooms in the basement of Birkbeck College's crystallography department have been remodelled to create a computer cinema where students and researchers can study biological molecules in a 3D experience to rival The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Screen 1 at the Birkbeck Multiplex, known officially as the multimedia seminar room, sports a 2000 by 2000-pixel Barco projector which can display molecular structures in twice the detail achievable on a typical PC screen. Seen through liquid-crystal goggles, the moving images leap into the third dimension. Spectators can "fly" through a jungle-gym of chemical bonds, trying not to duck each time an asteroid-like iron-sulphur complex hurtles towards the front-row seats. oSome visitors at the opening found the stereo effect eluded them, as their goggles failed to lock with the infra-red synchronising pulses. Smaller screens are available for individual work in a softly-lit side room . But science has not yet been reduced to an arcade game. The graphics are based on solid experimental work. The workstations displayed several protein molecules in which the position of every atom had been painstakingly measured by Birkbeck crystallographers.

The Pounds 196,000 laboratory and seminar room were paid for by the pharmaceutical company Glaxo Wellcome.

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