Grassroots innovation grant to exploring readily accessible virtual reality in (bio)molecular education

Medicinal Chemistry researchers Albert Kooistra and Maikel Wijtmans (AIMMS/FEW) have received one of the three Grassroots awards for their plan to explore Virtual Reality (VR) in (bio)molecular education using the smartphones of students.

04/11/2017 | 5:03 PM

VU Amsterdam Grassroots awards are intended to stimulate IT-driven innovation in VU education. The exploration of Kooistra and Wijtmans will focus on the bachelor programme Farmaceutische Wetenschappen and master programme Drug Discovery and Safety, but has potential for other FEW/FALW programmes too.

Molecular thinking is key in scientific areas such as nanotechnology, chemistry, and medicinal research. Historically, molecular structures are shown in 2D but this necessarily bypasses the real 3D structure of molecules (a key molecular property). In molecular education, the 3D structure should be conveyed as best as possible. Kooistra and Wijtmans propose to make a step forward by introducing VR in (bio)molecular education with the aim of enhancing the 3D spatial molecular awareness of students. It will help students in learning how to analyse molecular interactions and design drug molecules in 3D, skills that are becoming more and more important with continuously increasing amount of structural information on biomolecules. With the advent of Google Cardboard in which an inexpensive cardboard holder and the smartphone of the student are combined to give a VR viewer, unprecedented realistic 3D submersion in (bio)molecular structures with real head-tracking comes within reach for education. Under the Grassroots umbrella, Kooistra and Wijtmans will acquire the necessary Google Cardboard goggles and develop customised software for molecular VR viewing in an educational context.


A) Screenshot of a protein kinase structure in a VR viewer as available for research in the  KLIFS  database (developed in the division of Medicinal Chemistry), and B) A small test run with second year bachelor students Farmaceutische Wetenschappen in which they inspect a protein structure in VR mode on their smartphones.