Experiencing Science Through Virtual Reality

Published on July 18, 2018

In the UK, a surgeon performs a procedure with the assistance of a virtual reality (VR) camera. In California, a 7-year-old boy’s anxiety is relieved when VR technology transports him from the chemotherapy ward to his home or beautiful distant lands. In Germany, medical students use VR to experience ailments that they’ll eventually treat. In Texas, a therapist guides an armed forces veteran through VR exposure therapy to help her cope with posttraumatic stress. In New York, VR is used to teach physicians about a new therapeutic agent’s mechanism of action.

VR can take us as far as our imagination can travel, and it’s more advanced, accessible, portable, and cost-effective than ever before.

Until recently, VR had been relegated to the realm of science fiction, but it’s now a popular worldwide phenomenon. VR is no longer emerging technology—it’s flourishing and rapidly advancing. It lets users experience a world that doesn’t exist; they can visit and interact with 3D realms through a head-mounted display. VR works by splitting the display input between the user’s eyes and creating a stereoscopic 3D effect, which, when combined with positional sound and various methods of input tracking, creates an immersive and believable experience.

VR’s potential is nearly limitless; because of its transformative ability to present realities not easily visited or imagined, it’s an invaluable tool for the healthcare industry. VR transports its audiences to different times, places, and events and is experienced with visual, auditory, and even tactile feedback. By targeting multiple human senses, VR is a natural outlet for injecting adult learning principles into any experience, thereby helping lessons to better stick in a learner’s memory.

VR technology is financially accessible, portable, and convenient, which facilitates travel to academic institutions, professional conferences, offsite meetings, and offices. Users need only a safe, clear space and basic instructions to be plunged into a world they’ll probably never otherwise experience. App friendly, phone compatible, and compact enough to fit in a backpack, VR is already being used in the medical and pharmaceutical spaces and will only become more prevalent as technology advances and demand increases.

The frontier of VR is exciting, but early adopters must resist the urge to invest in it purely because of its novelty. Medical and pharmaceutical communities must determine whether this technology truly improves audience education and scientific storytelling. Everybody learns differently, but most people better absorb and recall information they’ve experienced firsthand. “Head” knowledge is rarely useful until it’s put into practice, and VR allows users to hear, see, touch, and feel concepts previously untapped by traditional classroom and slide presentations. However, VR is not so alien as to bemuse first-time users; rather, it builds on tried and true methods to reinforce messages conveyed through more conventional means.

VR accelerates and enables personalized learning in a safe environment to bridge the gap between theory and practice; the results are demonstrable mindset changes and increased user engagement. VR technology is already delivering exceptional return on investment and providing accurate assessment results. Such experiential storytelling is a natural extension of FORCE’s mission to bring science to life, as people see, hear, and feel a drug’s mechanism of action, a patient’s illness, or the biology of a disease.

If you had no limits, what story would you tell?


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