A Birmingham firm which specialises in building virtual worlds has won a contract to create a 3D laboratory to help students learn to screen for inherited genetic disease.
Birmingham Science Park-based Daden is creating the virtual lab to help students at the University of Leicester as part of a project addressing the limitations of teaching in working laboratories.
These include the pressures of time and the costs of handling real equipment and working together with peers, lecturers and demonstrations.
The virtual experience will be offered to first-year medical undergraduates at Leicester this semester in addition to their usual practical teaching.
Up to 80 students will use the virtual laboratory to learn the techniques involved in screening for the inherited genetic diseases Huntington’s disease, sickle cell anaemia and cystic fibrosis.
Leicester students will take part in the laboratory activities in their virtual role as avatars.
The SWIFT project has created a laboratory in the 3D web-based virtual world of Second Life, on ‘land’ owned by the Beyond Distance Research Alliance at the University of Leicester.
The university will use Daden’s open-source software PIVOTE.
Andrew Jinman, Daden’s PIVOTE product manager, said “This project will be the first time PIVOTE has been used for multi-student group exercises.
“Thirty students at a time will be work their way through the scenarios simultaneously to run simulated genetic tests and learning about the processes involved in testing samples.
“SWIFT demonstrates PIVOTE’s functionality and versatility.”
Daden has been chosen to carry out the development of virtual equipment and processes using the software, which is freely available for use by the educational community.
The firm will create a new on-screen “window” in the lab which will give instructions, provide feedback and allow each student to make choices about how to proceed with their experiments.
They will make sure that equipment mimics real-world use including micropipettes for moving liquids and gel tanks for separating DNA.
Students will have the experience of testing samples using laboratory equipment and interpreting test results.
PIVOTE has been released as an open-source application and there are now users from Argentina to Canada and across several European countries.
While it was initially developed for medical training, PIVOTE has since been used for topics as varied as retail customer service and youth citizenship.
Daden moved to its current offices at Faraday Wharf in Birmingham Science Park Aston in April this year.
For the previous five years, Daden staff had worked from home, and for the last two years as virtual tenants at the Serious Games Institute in Coventry.
It also has virtual offices in Second Life, which is where they meet most of their clients.