During the first week of October, David Glowacki attended the Oracle Open World conference in San Francisco. With Oracle being one of CHAMPS industrial partners, David was invited to give a talk entitled “Collaborative Cloud-Based Virtual Reality for Scientific Research & Education”. In the talk, David outlined the virtual reality framework that he’s been working to develop over the years, focusing on the cloud aspects of the project – particularly those which enable multiple users to simultaneously inhabit the same real-time virtual simulation environment. Using modern cloud architectures, it’s now possible to build real-time interactive simulations that harness the power of cloud supercomputing. And the cloud allows anybody to login to the simulation server remotely. Another highlight of the trip was David’s invitation to a small get-together at Larry Ellison’s private SF residence, where Larry offered his insight into a wide range of different areas, all informed by his perspective as the founder of one of the planet’s biggest tech companies. Amongst his most memorable statements was his claim that, were he to start over again, he’d consider starting a molecular science or biotech company. He also said that computational molecular biosciences is one of his hobbies. It’s an area he’s always been interested in, but wasn’t really a viable discipline back in the day. Things have definitely changed.
On Friday 22 Sept, we carried out our first CHAMPS workshop, focussing on machine learning. Led by Dr. David Glowacki, Dr. Lars Bratholm, Rob Arbon, and Silvia Amabilino, there were a number of attendees from a range of backgrounds spanning chemistry, mathematics, and computer science. The material covered during the workshop is available as a series of Jupyter notebooks on Github at this link, available to anybody that might be interested.
On 17th June, David Glowacki and Lisa May Thomas led a workshop at Modern Art Oxford entitled Sculpting the Invisible World. The work was part of the gallery’s ‘Future Knowledge’ program of events, curated by Emma Ridgway, and photographed by Stu Allsop. Using a pioneering multi-person virtual reality software framework, visitors were invited to interact within a virtual landscape as embodied energy fields. Methods from rigorous computational molecular physics and real-time digital rendering allowed digitally embodied participants to sculpt the dynamics of a simulated molecular nano-world, for example deforming buckminsterfullerene molecules, passing them back and forth, threading methane molecules through a carbon nanotube, and tying knots in proteins.
Sculpting the Invisible World follows on from the ‘dances with Avatars’ experiments carried out by Lisa May Thomas, which were designed as a sort of embodied Turing Test. During the Modern Art Oxford workshops, we were specifically interested in two aspects of multi-person interaction in VR: (1) what are the conventions which guided human-to-human interaction in virtual spaces, when we are rendered as digital bodies? (2) how do we begin what ‘feeling’ means in an immersive scientific visualisation environment – particularly in order to understand workshop participants’ claims that different molecular structures “feel” different?