BACKGROUND: With the help of a team of students, two scientists at the Rochester Institute of Technology, in New York state, created never-before-seen 3D virtual images of the pancreas, detailed images of the human skull, and DNA-level images of protein molecules. Viewers feel as if they are actually inside the body, taking a tour of a specific organ. The images will help them better understand human development, as well as improve the diagnosis and treatment of numerous diseases.
HOW THE IMAGES ARE MADE: The students first set up a pipeline to three different software tools which, taken together, enabled them to create true 3D images. One software program creates virtual trips through the body at the microscopic level, for example, while another sends images through polarized filters to a dual project system to create the 3D effect. The prototype system requires a pair of 3D red-and-blue glasses to view the images, but eventually the team hopes to create a fully interactive version that can be used with any computer monitor. A user would be able to zoom in or out and observe a given organ at all angles.
ABOUT COMPUTER MODELING: Computer modeling is used to simulate the structure and appearance both of static objects, such as building architecture, and of dynamic situations, such as a football game. Computer models can enable the user to test the consequences of choices and decisions. They can provide cutaway views that let you see aspects of an object that would be invisible in the real artifact, as well as visualization tools that can provide many different perspectives. Physical models that reproduce behavior are limited by the physics of the world, while computer models have much looser bounds. Physical models of living things can reproduce very few behaviors, compared to simulation models, and physical models simply cannot capture the sorts of species-level and conceptual-level phenomena that artificial life and artificial intelligence models do. Computer models enable you to run companies and civilizations, fight battles, play football games and evolve new species.
WHAT IS VIRTUAL REALITY: The term "virtual reality" is often used to describe interactive software programs in which the user responds to visual and hearing cues as he or she navigates a 3D environment on a graphics monitor. But originally, it referred to total virtual environments, in which the user would be immersed in an artificial, three-dimensional computer-generated world, involving not just sight and sound, but touch as well. Devices that simulate the touch experience are called haptic devices. The user has a variety of input devices to navigate that world and interact with virtual objects, all of which must be linked together with the rest of the system to produce a fully immersive experience.
The Optical Society of America contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.