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Is this a real lab… or is this just fantasy? How 360 video is helping us talk about research

by Amille Jampa-Ngoen | Analysis

27 April 2016

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Virtual reality cancer research
Experiencing a virtual reality lab tour

Virtual reality has come on in leaps and bounds over the last few decades.

Flash back to 20 years ago, the idea itself was as crude and grainy as the images it generated. But fast forward to 2016 – where this sort of technology is now becoming more readily available – and yes, believe it or not it’s actually surprisingly good.

But how might it help us talk about cancer?

Traditional ‘live’ lab tours are now given around our 20 research centres and institutes all the time. More than 13,000 people visited our labs and saw our science in person last year, but we’re at full capacity and opening our working labs to any more people risks disrupting our research

So, together with Redweb and Outpost VFX, two digital agencies based in Bournemouth, we’ve created an exciting virtual lab tour. The new tour provides a golden opportunity for all our supporters to see first-hand how their generosity funds life-saving research.

Moving seamlessly from basic biology to clinical trials, the virtual lab tour is a 360 degree, immersive viewing experience of life in the lab. The tour can be viewed using two headsets – either the Google Cardboard or the Samsung Gear VR – and viewers are given wireless headphones to fully immerse themselves.

In under a minute, the headset is up and running – ready to transport you to the heart of our scientific discoveries at our Manchester Institute.

Too late, lab time has come

Dr Marina Parry, one of our scientists based at the institute introduces the tour, in which the user can navigate through four different laboratories. As Marina talks, you can look around the lab from every angle, being as nosey as you like. Every user has a complete 360-degree view of their surroundings, as the camera moves in tandem with every subtle turn of your head.

The tour takes users through some of the cutting-edge technology we use at our Manchester Institute.

At one point, they’re invited to look down a microscope, where they can see cells in minute detail. The only downside is, it’s very easy to get carried away with the experience and lose track of time, but the tour is over in under 4 mins. We could tell you more at this point, but we wouldn’t want to spoil it.

So here’s a sneak peak.

An escape from reality

Our Research Engagement team will be offering virtual lab tours at events up and down the country this year.

These range from patient engagement events and centre open days to sports events like the Great North Run. We’re also working on making the new lab tour accessible to everyone, through a mobile app. Our ultimate aim is that people will have the opportunity to find out more about our work from the comfort of their homes, especially those who don’t live near one of our research locations.

This is our first foray into the world of virtual reality, but it’s by no means our last. And with a lot of exciting new technology being unveiled, it’s exciting to think where this could take us.

It’s important for us to show our gratitude to our supporters. We want them to be able to experience the work they fund, giving them a sense of the breadth of our research.

And we hope that our new virtual lab tour will help offer a glimpse of how that research is changing the reality of cancer.

With your continued support, we hope that it’s one concept that isn’t at all futuristic.

Amille Jampa-Ngoen is a research communications and marketing officer at Cancer Research UK

Interested? Here are some upcoming events where you can experience the virtual lab tour and see what all the fuss is about:

  • 21st May 2016: PIatform for Investigation at Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester
  • 25th June 2016: Manchester Cancer Research Centre Open Day
  • 29th July to 5th August – National Eisteddfod (Abergavenny) with audio dubbed into Welsh
  • 11th September 2016 – Great North Run
  • 9th October 2016 – Royal Parks Half Marathon
  • 22nd October 2016 – Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology Open Day, Belfast
  • 26th November 2016 – Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute Open Day