Crystallise learning in a goggle-eyed way

December 8, 2006

It may conjure up visions of awe-struck 1950s cinema audiences decked out in white cardboard spectacles flinching from images looming out of the screen, but 3-D technology has been embraced in the 21st century to liven up lectures at Warwick University.

Vilmos Fülöp, a professor of structural biology, is set to turn his lectures into a 3-D cinematic experience so he can bring images of protein crystallography to life.

Professor Fülöp bought the new technology - software, a projector and 3-D polarised glasses for the students - with the help of a £25,000 grant from the university's fund for teaching innovation.

He will start teaching postgraduates over the next two weeks, and the initiative will become part of the undergraduate curriculum when the new term begins in January. Depending on the success of the pilot project, the technology could be extended to other disciplines across the university.

Although 3-D technology is commonly used in academic research, this is the first time it has been used in undergraduate teaching.

Professor Fulop said: "I'll use it to help students visualise macromolecular structures such as proteins in 3-D. It's a difficult thing to teach because they are very complex big molecules and can't be drawn using simple illustrations (in textbooks).

"If you strip down the molecules, you lose the point and can't explain what's going on very easily," he explained.

"Showing them in 3-D will bring the subject to life and help students appreciate how it all works," he added.

Professor Fülöp hopes that the new technology will inspire science students to shun high-paying industry jobs to forge a research career in academe.

"Even with the best students, they go off to choose other careers; this will hopefully help to inspire them to stay in science and structural biology," he said.

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