Program Easily Converts Molecules to 3D Models for 3D Printing, Virtual and Augmented Reality

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At North Carolina State University, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Denis Fourches uses technology to research the effectiveness of new drugs. He uses computer programs to model interactions between chemical compounds and biological targets to predict the effectiveness of the compound, narrowing the field of drug candidates for testing. Lately, he has been using a new program that allows the user to create 3D models of molecules for 3D printing, plus augmented and virtual reality applications.

RealityConvert converts molecular objects like proteins and drugs into high-quality 3D models. The models are generated in standard file formats that are compatible with most augmented and virtual reality programs, as well as 3D printers. The program is specifically designed for creating models of chemicals and small proteins.

“Large and complex biomolecules like proteins make it difficult for researchers and students to accurately visualize their structure or how they might interact with a given compound. But if we can easily build an accurate 3-D model of the protein into a virtual reality or augmented reality environment, we can enable a much better perception of the geometrical and structural characteristics of that molecule,” said Fourches.

Denis Fourches

Fourches has been using the program with his undergraduate chemistry students. 3D printing things like viruses and other microscopic objects has been shown to help students better understand their structures and properties. Looking at something under a microscope can only provide a limited understanding of an object, but being able to hold it and examine it from every angle, scaled up hundreds of times its original size, allows students to better grasp – literally – exactly what it is they’re studying.

Meanwhile, molecular objects in virtual or augmented reality provide a whole new level of understanding, and that in particular is what Fourches wants to target.

“The ultimate goal of RealityConvert is to facilitate and boost the development of augmented reality and virtual reality content for bioinformatics and cheminformatics applications. These technologies allow for stunning and immersive experiences, offering untapped opportunities for both research and education purposes,” Fourches said.

Preparing models for use in AR and VR applications is time-consuming, but RealityConvert makes it fast. All a user needs to do is upload a model to the RealityConvert website, and the conversion takes place quickly. For chemical structures, in addition to the 3D model generation, RealityConvert generates image trackers, which are used to universally call and anchor the 3D model in AR applications.

The details of RealityConvert are documented in a paper entitled “RealityConvert: a tool for preparing 3D models of biochemical structures for augmented and virtual reality,” authored by Fourches and Alexandre Borrel, which you can access here. The open source program can also be accessed on GitHub.

RealityConvert is an advanced yet accessible tool that allows users to turn what can seem abstract and out of reach into something immersive or tactile. Virtual and augmented reality bring a new kind of understanding to things that can be hard to grasp, and RealityConvert makes those kind of experiences easy to create, allowing students and researchers to see things in a new way that may lead to new discoveries.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 

[Source/Images: NC State]

 

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