Simbios Talk by Arthur Olson, The Scripps Research Institute, April 4, 2007

Title: Tangible Interfaces for Structural Molecular Biology

Abstract: Structural molecular biology is a key science in connecting the worlds of physics and chemistry to biology.  It is a discipline that focuses on three and four dimensional relationships of complex shapes and functions.  As such, it has been a fertile proving ground for novel technologies that can enhance interaction and visualization of such systems for the purposes of exploration, understanding and communication.

Physical models have been used for centuries to aid in the process of modeling and visualization in many areas of science.  In the latter part of the last century computer graphics largely superceded physical models for these purposes.  This advance in technology was accompanied by a loss of the perceptual richness inherent in the humena interaction with real physical objects.  The tactile and proprioceptive senses provide key cues to our ability to understand 3 dimensional form and to perform physical manipulations, but are now currently under-utilized in fields such as molecular biology.

We have been developing applications using two emerging technologies, computer autofabrication (solid printing) and augmented reality to create novel tangible representations and computer interfaces for structural molecular biology1.  In this talk I will place our work in the context of the discipline, and discuss our approaches and progress.  A live demonstration planned.

1Gillet, A., Sanner, M., Stoffler, D., Olson, A.J. (2005) Tangible interfaces for structural molecular biology. Structure:13:483-491