Imagine being able to walk through a database of research: computer-assisted automatic virtual environments (CAVEs) – rooms enclosed by high-resolution display panels – allow users to do precisely that. In these chambers, scientists are able to submerge themselves in large volumes of data, exploring structures in three-dimensional space. Viewing data in this way provides a different perspective, it allows patterns to be more easily identified, and overcomes the difficulty of visualising and comprehending large, complex molecules on 2D monitors. CAVEs have already been implemented at some universities and credited with a number of results, including a breakthrough in our understanding of how cocaine interacts with the brain – shedding light on how to best combat its addictive properties. This technology has also been instrumental in identifying specific genes responsible for the development of mouth cancer, and for studying activation patterns in the brains of zebrafish (pictured).
Written by Helen Thomas
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