In the AVATARS research project, an interactive visualization of scalable models is carried out based on experimental, i.e. real biological data in the three-dimensional space of a plant seed. It aims at the interaction of biological and bioinformatic research results and their visualization. Complex metabolic pathways are extracted and integrated into structural, three-dimensional seed models.
With the 3D experience “VR Plant Journey”, this basic scientific concept is used and implemented in a gaming-based world. The core of this gaming concept is not a better scientific understanding through the visualization of real processes, but the ability to experience them on a widespread scale.
The first target group of the “VR Plant Journey” are pupils and students. The aim is to get them excited about scientific topics and plant research. The development of the experience was one of the first steps of the AVATARS project. The Plant Journey is also the first contact with virtual reality for many scientists. The resulting awareness of the possibilities but also of the peculiarities of three-dimensional virtual reality will also positively influence the AVATARS project itself and other projects.
The “VR Plant Journey” serves to transfer knowledge to a growing generation of plant researchers, our pupils. In a catchy, playful way, the mission, structure and principle of the research project and the “plant as the basis of life” are made tangible. Starting with the nutrient molecule nitrogen in the soil, the journey in a virtual plant begins. The molecule migrates from the soil into the root via the stem into the leaf and reaches the seed in a transformed form. The journey of the nitrogen molecules creates multiple points of interaction. The entire game follows an optimization approach: as much nitrogen as possible should be stored in the seed in the end. The entire game, from nitrogen (ammonium and nitrate) in the soil to the converted nitrogen in the seed as oil and protein, via the reactions in the leaf, takes an average of ten minutes. Challenges must be passed in each of the three stations. Nitrogen molecules must be assembled in the root, the photosynthesis needs to be accelerated in the leave and oil bodies need to become blown up in the seed. The “VR Plant Journey” serves as an introduction to the discussion about the importance of plants and is intended to bring the fascination of plant research closer to pupils. At the end of the game, the player receives an evaluation judging whether the player’s performance has improved the rapeseed plant and defied adversity: “You are a professional, become a plant researcher”.
Three VR stations have been developed for the “IdeenExpo 2019” in Hanover. Another use of the “VR Plant Journey” took place in January 2020 at the “International Green Week” in Berlin. In addition, the stations can also be sent individually. There have been requests for open days at other research institutes, as well as from schools. Due to the pandemic situation, implementation has been suspended for the time being.
The high-quality implementation of the concept is reflected in several award nominations such as 2019 for the VRNOW Award “Best Learning Solution” and 2020 for the Laval Virtual Award in the category: “VR/AR for Learning and Training”‘.
Due to the demand for innovative and educational content for virtual reality, the experience has a corresponding relevance for the market and will already be exploited within the project duration. To continue the dissemination in schools and to a population that is enthusiastic about knowledge games, the “VR Plant Journey” will also be offered very soon in online stores like Steam.