The SLENZ Update – No 11, October 1, 2008

Science visualisation?

Representation of 3D molecules in Second Life, JAYFEV strand (left) and Aspirin (right).

A number of researchers at tertiary institutions around the world are exploring the potential of using Virtual Worlds, such as Second Life, as  “scientific visualisation” tools, in particular, for remote collaborative exploration of scientific datasets.

One of the researchers, Paul Bourke, of the University of Western Australia, in a paper to the Computer Games and Allied Technology Development conference in Singapore, entitled  “Evaluating Second Life as a tool for collaborative scientific visualisation”, outlined the desirable characteristics expected of any online collaborative tool in science research and discussed, through examples the extent to which Second Life meets those expectations.

Second Life at its core, he noted,  provides a means whereby multiple remote participants can engage with 3D geometry within a virtual environment. It was chosen for the evaluation for a number of reasons, he said,  including the easy-to-learn user interface, its relatively widespread uptake, the availability of the Second Life client on the three main computer platforms, its non-aggressive social networking foundation, and the scripting capability.

Its a useful primer for those  Kiwi tertiary educators who might not see the benefits that Virtual Worlds can offer to their students or in a collaborative research framework.The paper is available as a PDF file:

Nailing it down!

Rather than educating students in Virtual Worlds like Second Life many educators are still “nailing down” what works and what doesn’t work, according to Karl Kapp (pictured), a US consultant and speaker on the convergence of learning, technology and business operations.

This, however, is true in the adoption of all new technologies, he says in his blog, Kapp Notes, answering some interesting self-posed questions about education and Second Life ( and providing an interesting mirror in which Kiwi educators can evaluate their progress in the implementation of Virtual World education.

“We are in the stage of ‘You Can…’ but the only way to get out of that stage is to actually do something with the software and then study the results,” he says, giving examples of successes and educators who have progressed to the results stage

This is “…because the technology is so new that people need to understand how to use the technology before they can study it,” he says. “It needs to be up and running before it can be studied.

Other observations, he makes, include the surprising observation, based on a study, Creating & Connecting: Research and Guidelines on Online Social–And Educational–Networking, that despite the primary motivation for kids to use social networking tools being non-academic, kids use social networks for educational purposes on their own.

“Students report that one of the most common topics of conversation on the social networking scene is education,” this study found, he says. “Almost 60 percent of students who use social networking talk about education topics online and, surprisingly, more than 50 percent talk specifically about schoolwork.”

VWs “2nd phase”

The good news for educators on the Virtual World front is that “Virtual worlds are moving from their boom/bust cycle” to sustainability, according to Paul Jackson (pictured) with Michelle de Lussanet and Laura Wiramihardja in their September 26 report, The Revival Of Consumer Virtual Worlds.,7211,44643,00.html

In an executive summary of the rather costly e-publication (US$295) from Forrester Research, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR) an independent US research company that has been following Virtual Worlds for a number of years, they say, “The two years since Virtual Worlds went “mainstream” have been a roller-coaster ride for all involved; for every success like World of Warcraft, there have been negative developments such as the media backlash against Second Life.

“Now, as a number of new worlds are appearing, the technology is improving, and interest levels are growing, virtual worlds are ready to enter their second phase.

Jackson et al recommend that consumer product strategy professionals should watch the Virtual World space carefully — if they are not involved already — “as we expect the next 12 months to be momentous for consumer virtual worlds.

“Much-heralded new worlds will arrive, marketers will return to the medium after initially being burned, and Web3D elements will start to creep into consumers’ lives,” Jackson says

SL teams beat RL

Although face-to-face teams felt most confident about their performance, Second Life teams provided the most accurate answers, in a  recent study in which Penn State researchers investigated how virtual teams could better solve real world problems by collaborating in Second Life.

The experiment in which students (18 to 22 years old) formed teams and were asked to solve a problem, posed by a video, using different meeting styles was run by Nathan McNeese, undergraduate, psychology; Gerry Santoro, assistant professor, and Michael McNeese, professor, information sciences and technology and psychology, Penn State; and Mark Pfaff, assistant professor of media arts and sciences, Indiana University-Indianapolis.

The researchers, according to ScienceDaily, set up 10 teams to work face-to-face, 10 teams to work through teleconferencing, and 12 teams to work as groups of avatars in Second Life.

The assigned task revolved around a video produced by the Vanderbilt University Learning Technology Center that focuses on mathematical problem finding and solving.

Although the groups using Second Life were confined to text-based communication and had to learn how to master the complex keyboard strokes required for avatar movement, they were not deterred from completing the assigned task even though they took the longest to finish.

“Overall, Second Life is a viable option for group work,”McNeese said. “But there’s definitely a learning curve with it and accomplishing even basic tasks can be difficult, especially if you’ve never used it before.”

The  findings were reported n September At the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society meeting in New York City.


4 Responses

  1. For more information about scientific visualization in Second Life see the Second Life data visualization wiki:

    For more specific information relating to chemistry visualization in Second Life, see the Chemistry in Second Life website:

    -Hiro Sheridan

  2. The picture you have in your blog post “Representation of molecules in SL” is that how researchers and scientists want to visualize these aspect of their job?
    What I see are basic spheres and cylinders. Yes that is possible in SL but it’s extremely basic.

  3. Yes Virtual you are right…. but that picture was only used as illustration from a large number the author of the original paper supplied with the research paper. As you are no doubt aware there are even better visualisations within SL on a number of university sites. The article was mainly to draw attention to this capability and the research paper in a timely fashion. I would refer you to the previous comments of Hiro Sheridan.

  4. Thanks for that Hiro…. that is the sort of comment (and valuable urls) which is welcome on a blog like this which I hope will become a forum and provider of information, promoting the exchange of ideas and VW education knowledge where ever possible.

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