Author: Ricki Lewis

The field of virtual environments is in its infancy, particularly in the life sciences. Costs now are so high that rather than earmark a grant application for the million or so dollars necessary to start one's own system, researchers are bringing their data to computer science departments providing virtual environments compatible with biological investigation.

The University of North Carolina (UNC) offers such a facility, where molecular biologists can view and feel molecules interacting. "We don't charge, because we are funded by NIH [the National Institutes of Health]," says William Wright, a research professor in the computer science department. He tallies up prices of the equipment: The instruments that create the images cost several hundred thousand dollars; a head-mounted display from $5,000 to $50,000; and manipulator arms up to $250,000. Similarly, the CAVE facility at the University of Illinois, Chicago, includes equipment totaling well over the...

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